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Registered: 04/30/03
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    #2028233 - 10/21/03 11:46 AM (13 years, 1 month ago)

I came across a great scholarly article on Soma, the amrita of the Hindus. Here's the link and article:



Vol. 9 (2003) Issue 1a (May 4) (?) ISSN 1084-7561

Guest editor : Jan E.M. Houben, Leiden University






1. The Soma-Haoma problem: Introductory overview and observations on the
discussion (J.E.M. Houben)

2. Report of the Workshop (J.E.M. Houben)

3. Report concerning the contents of a ceramic vessel found in the "white
room" of the Gonur Temenos, Merv Oasis, Turkmenistan (C.C. Bakels)

4. Margiana and Soma-Haoma (Victor I. Sarianidi)

5. Soma and Ecstasy in the Rgveda (George Thompson)

6. Contributors to this issue, Part I



This volume of EJVS is edited by our guest editor, Jan Houben. He has
organized the Leiden conference whose (partial) outcome are the papers
presented here. Incidentally, this volume follows up, in certain respects,
the discussion, begun in Vol. 8-3 by Philip T. Nicholson, about specially
induced states of mind, as seen in Vedic texts. A rep[ort on te recent
Somayaaga in Keral will follow soon.

The transcription in this issue follows the Kyoto-Harvard System with
minor, self-evident modifications (especially in the initial characters
of proper names, such as .R = capital vowel R), and some special
characters for Avestan: E = e, E: = long e, /e = schwa, T = theta, D =
delta, G = gamma, :n = ng, ^s = sh, :x = xv, etc. Accents are
represented as follows: udATTa by / and Svarita by \ .

We sincerely thank Jan Houben for all work undertaken to bring out this
special issue.





Note: The Soma-Haoma issue of the EJVS, of which this is the first part,
presents the direct and indirect outcome of a workshop on the Soma-Haoma
problem organized by the Research school CNWS, Leiden University, 3-4 July



The Soma-Haoma problem:
Introductory overview and observations on the discussion[1]
Jan E.M. Houben

Je suis ivre d'avoir bu tout l'univers ...
?coutez mes chants d'universelle ivrognerie.
Apollinaire, 1913

It is no sign of scientific honesty to attempt
to claim for what is in reality a branch of
historical research, a character of
mathematical certainty.
... it is only the rawest recruit
who expects mathematical precision where,
from the nature of the case, we must
be satisfied with approximative aimings.
F. Max Mueller, 1888, p. xiv.

1. Introduction
Practically since the beginning of Indology and Iranology, scholars have
been trying to identify the plant that plays a central role in Vedic and
Avestan hymns and that is called Soma in the Veda and Haoma in the Avesta.
What is the plant of which the Vedic poet says (.RV 8.48.3)[2]:
*/apAma s/omam am/rtA abhUm/a-aganma jy/otir /avidAma dev/An / k/iM nUn/am
asm/An k.rNavad /arAtiH k/im u dhUrt/ir am.rta m/artyasya //*
"We just drank the Soma, we have become immortal, we have come to the
light, we have found the gods. What can enmity do to us now, and what the
mischief of a mortal, o immortal one?"
And which plant is addressed by Zarathustra (Y 9.19-20) when he asks divine
blessings such as "long life of vitality" (*dar/eGO.jItIm
u^stAnahe*)[3][4], "the best world of the pious, shining and entirely
glorious" (*vahi^st/em ahUm a:Saon/am raoca:nh/em vIspO.:xATr/em*), and
requests to become "the vanquisher of hostility, the conqueror of the lie"
(*-tbaE:SO tauruu:A druj/em vanO*)?

2.1. Early ideas and guesses on Soma and Haoma
Already Abraham Rogerius, the 17th century missionary from Holland, was
familiar with the word *soma*, as he writes in his Open Deure tot het
Verborgen Heydendom (1651) that it means "moon" in the language which he
calls "Samscortam" [5]. But it seems that it was only in the second half of
the 18th century that Europeans started to gather more detailed
informations about Vedic rituals, including the use of Soma (in the meaning
of the plant and the inebriating drink created from it). In an abridged
text of the Jesuit Father Coeurdoux which remained unpublished but which
was apparently the unacknowledged basis of J.A. Dubois' well-known work on
the customs, institutions and ceremonies of the peoples of India (Abb?
1825), we read that Soma is the name of a certain liqueur of which the
sacrificer and the Brahmins have to drink at the occasion of a sacrifice
("Soma est le nom d'une certaine liqueur dont lui [= celui qui pr?side ? la
c?r?monie, J.H.] et les autres Brahmes doivent boire en cette occasion",
Murr 1987: 126).

>From Anquetil-Duperron (1771) [6] and Charles Wilkins (1785) [7] onward,
the identity of the Avestan Haoma and of the Vedic Soma started to receive
scholarly and scientific attention. In 1842, John Stevenson wrote in the
preface to his translation of the SAmaveda that in the preparation of a
Soma ritual (somayAga) one should collect the "moon-plant". He identifies
(p. IV) the plant as Sarcostemma viminalis. He moreover notes (p. X) that
"[s]ince the English occupation of the Mar?tha country" the SomayAga was
performed three times (viz., in Nasik, Pune and Sattara). In 1844, Eug?ne
Burnouf observed in a study (p. 468) that the situation of the Avestan
Haoma, the god whose name signifies both a plant and the juice pressed from
it, is exactly parallel with the Soma of Vedic sacrifice. Windischmann
(1846) discussed ritual and linguistic parallels between the Soma- and
Haoma-cult in more detail. He reports (1846: 129) that Soma is known to be
Sarcostemma viminalis, or Asclepias acida (the latter nowadays also known
as Sarcostemma acidum Voigt), to which he attributes a
narcotic-intoxicating ("narkotisch-berauschende") effect.

2.2. Soma-Haoma and the development of modern botany
The botanical identity of Soma and Haoma became problematized in the second
half of the nineteenth century in a time when botany was coping with the
challenges of various exotic, newly encountered floras. The use of the
plant Sarcostemma brevistigma in recent Vedic sacrifices was acknowledged,
but was this identical with the Soma which had inspired the ancient authors
of the Vedic hymns? Max Mueller expressed his doubts in an article
published in 1855, in which he referred to a verse about Soma that appeared
in a ritualistic commentary (dhUrtasvAmin's commentary on the Apastamba
/SrautasUtra) and that was itself allegedly quoted from an Ayurvedic
source. Adalbert Kuhn 1859, being primarily interested in Indo-European
mythological parallels, accepts Windischmann's conclusions that the
Soma-Haoma was already current among the proto-Indo-Iranians before they
split into a Vedic and Iranian group. He leaves open the possibility that
only the mythology and outward appearance of the Soma and Haoma are similar
while the plants may be different. In 1881 Roth discussed in an article,
"Ueber den Soma", the nature of the plant that was used in modern times,
the plant of olden times, the development in which the plant became rare
and inaccessible to the Vedic people, and the admission and prescription of
surrogates in later Vedic texts. He thinks it is likely that the ancient
Soma was a Sarcostemma or a plant belonging, like the Sarcostemma, to the
family of Asclepiadeae, but not the same kind as the one used in current
sacrifices. Roth's article was the starting signal of a discussion by
correspondence in an English weekly review of literature, art and science,
The Academy of 1884-1885; apart from Roth and Mueller botanists such as
J.G. Baker and W.T. Thiselton-Dyer participated. Julius Eggeling (1885:
xxiv ff) gave a brief report of this discussion, which later on appeared
again in Max Mueller's Biographies of Words and the Home of the Aryans
(1888: 222-242). From the title which Mueller gives to the whole
discussion, "The original home of the Soma", it is clear which aspect of
the problem interests him most: the possible indication that the plant's
identity might give about "the original home of the Aryans". Eggeling
notices that an official inquiry is undertaken by Dr. Aitchison, "botanist
to the Afghan Boundary Commission" (Eggeling 1885: xxiv). A few decades
later, Hillebrandt (1927: 194ff) gives a more detailed report of the same
discussion and adds references to a few later contributions to the
Soma-Haoma problem. As in the case of Eggeling, Hillebrandt cannot reach a
final conclusion regarding the identity of the plant Soma and Haoma in the
ancient period. Suggestions noted by Hillebrandt vary from wine (Watt and
Aitchison) and beer (Rajendra Lal Mitra) to Cannabis (B.L. Mukherjee).[8]
In a footnote, Hillebrandt writes about a "Reisebrief aus Persien" by
Bornmueller according to whom the "Soma-twig (also called Homa and Huma)"
in the hand of a Parsi priest in Yesd could be immediately recognized as
Ephedra. A few years earlier, Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, in his work on the
"religious ceremonies and customs of the Parsees" (1922: 303, footnote 1),
reported that "a few twigs of the Haoma plant used by the Indian Parsis in
their ritual" were sent to Dr. Aitchison (spelled by Modi as Aitchinson)
and identified by him as "twigs of the species Ephedra (Nat. order
Gnetaceae)." Aitchison publishes his botanical descriptions of plants
encountered at his trip through the "Afghan boundary" area in 1888. In the
valley of the Hari-rud river he notices (1888: 111-112) the presence of
several varieties of Ephedra, including one which he and a colleague are
the first to determine, as well as the Ephedra pachyclada, of which he
reports as "native names" Hum, Huma and Yehma.[9] Without committing
himself to a candidate for the "real Soma plant", Oldenberg (1894: 177 and
366ff) argued that the Vedic Soma plant was a replacement of an earlier,
Indo-European substance inebriating men and gods: mead, an alcoholic drink
derived from honey.

2.3. Soma-Haoma, the biochemistry of plants, and human physiology
At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century,
another strand starts to be woven in the Soma-Haoma discussion. An active
substance of the Ephedra plant, the alkaloid ephedrine, was found in the
chinese herb Ma Huang (Ephedra vulg.) in 1885 by Yamanashi. In 1887 and
1892, it was isolated from the plant by Nagai, who gave it the name
ephedrine.[10] In World War I, ephedrin and a number of other alkaloids
(quinine, strychnine, yohimbine and harmaline), were tested on a group of
soldiers; it was found that ephedrine worked most strongly on muscle
strength as well as on the will to overcome fatigue.[11] In his 1938
Lehrbuch der biologischen Heilmittel (Textbook of biological remedies),
Gerhard Madaus (1938: 1259-1266) refers to a large number of studies on the
effects, toxicity etc. of ephedrine appearing in German and American
scientific journals, and notes their employment in the treatment of asthma
and low bloodpressure. In the period between the two world wars, chemical
substances (amphetamines) were explored which were close to ephedrine both
in chemical structure and in physiological effects (Alles 1933, Fawcett and
Busch 1998: 504). In World War II it were the amphetamines that were widely
used on both sides.

2.4. A growing public for knowledge and experience of
psychoactive substances
A book that we may now call a textbook of psychoactive substances was
published in 1924, with an enlarged edition in 1927: Louis Lewin's
Phantastica: Die bet?ubenden und erregenden Genussmittel f?r ?rzte and
Nicht?rzte (Phantastica: narcotics and stimulants, for medical doctors and
non-doctors). Having researched several of the plants (the mexican
"mescal-button" cactus) and substances (e.g. cocaine) himself in the
preceding decades, he gives detailed discussions of the uses and abuses of
a wide range of narcotics, stimulants and popular remedies that were either
available in Europe from all parts of the world or that had been studied
abroad by ethnographers. He is aware (1927: 216) of the Soma-discussion,
and of the main proposals, Periploca aphylla, Sarcostemma brevistigma and
Ephedra vulgaris, which, however, he does not see as capable of "producing
the effects described with regard to the Soma" ("Keine von diesen Pflanzen
kann Wirkingen veranlassen, wie sie von dem Soma geschildert werden"). He
rather thinks that it may have been a "strong alcoholic drink created by
fermentation from a plant."[12] An English translation of Lewin's book was
read by Aldous Huxley in 1931, and it inspired him to write Brave New World
(1932), the satirical fiction of a state where, with an inversion of Marx'
statement, "opium is the religion of the people". The "opium" in Huxley's
novel is a chemical substance which he calls "Soma" and which, dependent on
the dose, can bring someone a happy feeling, ego-transcending ecstasy, or a
deep sleep like a "complete and absolute holiday" [13]. In a 1931 newspaper
article in which he refers to his discovery of that "ponderous book by a
German pharmacologist" (i.e., Lewin's 1927 "encyclopaedia of drugs"),
Huxley says that "probably the ancient Hindus used alcohol to produce
religious ecstasy" (in Huxley 1977: 4), a statement apparently deriving
from Lewin's hasty and unconvincing suggestion for the identification of
Soma with alcohol. The same book also informed him that "the Mexicans
procured the beatific vision by eating a poisonous cactus" and that "a
toadstool filled the Shamans of Siberia with enthusiasm and endowed them
with the gift of tongues." In 1958: 99, however, Huxley mentions another
plant as the possibly real Vedic Soma: "The original Soma, from which I
took the name of this hypothetical drug, was an unknown plant (possibly
Asclepias acida) used by the ancient Aryan invaders of India in one of the
most solemn of their religious rites." His novel Island of 1963 gives a
description of a more positive Utopian world in the form of a community
that uses a drug not called Soma but "Moksha", and made out of
"toadstools". It provides "the full-blown mystical experience."[14]

2.5. The main Soma-Haoma candidates until the 1960'ies
In the meantime, indologists, ethnologists, botanists and pharmacologists
had continued discussing and researching various candidates for the "real
Soma-Haoma". The main plants discussed are Ephedra, Sarcostemma
brevistigma, and Rhubarb. In the latter theory, defended e.g. by Stein
1931, the reddish juice of the plant is thought to be the basis of an
alcoholic drink. In the introduction to his translation of the ninth
maNDala of the .Rgveda (Geldner 1951, vol. III), K.F. Geldner says that the
Soma-plant "can only have been a kind of Ephedra." Geldner (1853-1929)
worked on the translation of the ninth and tenth maNDalas in the last years
of his life. He justified his view by noting that a sample (apparently of a
plant used in the Haoma-ceremony) given to him in Bombay by Parsi priests
was identified as Ephedra by the renowned botanist O. Stapf; he also
referred to a publication of Aitchison (Notes on Products of Western
Afghanistan and North Eastern Persia, not available to me) and to Modi
1922: 303. In earlier publications such as the one on the Zoroastrian
religion (1926) and his textbook on Vedism and Brahmanism (1928), Geldner
had remained quite silent on the botanical identity of the Haoma-Soma, he
only presented the two as identical. Geldner's German .Rgveda translation
became widely available only several years after World War II, but then it
became the scholarly standard translation for the next so many decades.

3.1. The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria): a new candidate
presented, criticized and defended.
An altogether new theory was launched by R. Gordon Wasson in a book that
appeared in 1969.[15] Wasson (1898-1986) was an English banker as well as
ethnobotanist and mycologist.[16] Together with his wife, he earlier
published a book on "mushrooms in Russian history" in 1957. Wasson's 1969
book on a "mushroom of immortality" as the original Soma presents an
impressive array of circumstantial evidence in the form of ethnographic and
botanic data on the use of the Amanita muscaria ("fly-agaric") by isolated
tribes in the far north-west of Siberia. In other words, what was literary
fiction in Huxley's novel Island appears now as a scholarly hypothesis.[17]
However, what should count as substantial evidence in Wasson's hypothesis
remains utterly unconvincing. Wasson wants to take only the .Rgvedic hymns
into account, from which he selects statements that would describe the
Soma-plant. The hymns, however, are employed in the context of elaborate
rituals and are generally directed to certain gods, e.g. Indra, Agni, Soma.
The praises of the god contain references to mythological elements
regarding his powers, feats and origination. To the extent that hymns to
Soma contain references to concrete events - that is, to the extent they do
not refer to cosmological themes or to microcosmic implications - these
usually concern the ritual sphere. Wasson takes these references as
detailed descriptions of the plant in its natural habitat, which is
demonstrably incorrect. By isolating short phrases eclectically, Wasson
does indeed succeed in collecting a number of statements which can be
applied to the fly-agaric and its life cycle in nature. While the verses
are apparently formulated so as to be suggestive of additional meanings (to
allow interpretations concerning man and the cosmos), the immediate context
of the isolated phrases usually make a link with the growing mushroom far
fetched while the suitablility for the ritual context remains. Even if
occasionally mention is made of the mountains as the place where the Soma
grows, the hymns of the ninth book of the .Rgveda, which forms the main
source of evidence for Wasson, deal with the Soma in the process of
purification (p/avamAna). As Brough observed in 1973: 22: "the Vedic
priests were concentrating on the ritual situation, and on the plant,
presumably in a dried state, at the time of the ritual pressing. It is thus
improbable that the Vedic 'epithets and tropes' which Wasson believed
reflected aspects of the striking beauty of the living plant were inspired
in this way." [18] A number of reviews of Wasson's book appeared from the
hand of anthropologists, botanists, writers, indologists, and historians of
religion.[19] Those which were too hesitant in accepting Wasson's central
thesis, Kuiper and Brough, received a rejoinder (Wasson 1970 and 1972a),
where, however, we find repetitions of his earlier statements and more of
the same but no indication that the problems pointed out by the reviewers
were understood, let alone that these problems are convincingly addressed

Separate mention is to be made of Part Two of Wasson's book (pp. 93-147),
which is written by indologist Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty and is entitled
"The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant". This part is valuable for its
discussion of researches on Soma and Haoma by Western scholars since the
end of the eighteenth century to the time of her writing. The section on
"the BrAhmaNas and the /Srauta-sUtras" (pp. 95-98), concerning a crucial
episode in Soma's "post-vedic history" for which extensive material is
available, is impressionistic and eclectic and hence defective [21], but in
spite of this both Doniger O'Flaherty and Wasson refer to it in their
attempt to prove the absence of direct knowledge of Soma in this period.

Apart from its importance for the study of the use of the fly-agaric by
tribes in distant North-East Siberia,[22] Wasson's book forms an undeniable
landmark in the Soma-Haoma discussion. However, while initially he did
receive more positive reactions to his central thesis from some indological
reviewers (Bareau, Ingalls and Kramrisch), it hardly ever received
full-fledged support from later indologists writing on the subject. One
important point is however widely accepted: the Soma might very well have
been a hallucinogen. The line of reasoning underlying the argument
presented in Wasson 1969 was: in the light of the utterances of the Vedic
authors, Soma cannot have been alcoholic, it must have been a
hallucinogen.[23] In his review of Wasson 1969, Brough (1971: 360f) made an
important observation. Quoting from Wasson's evidence on the consumption of
fly-agaric among tribes in North-East Siberia, Brough points out that there
are repeated references to coma induced by the fly-agaric. Those who
consume the mushroom attain "an ecstatic stupor" or are transported into "a
state of unconsciousness". Being "in a stupor from three sun-dried agarics"
the hero of one of Wasson's sources "is unable to respond to the call to
arms. But time passes and the urgency grows, and when the messengers press
their appeal to throw off his stupor he finally calls for his arms." Brough
rightly observes: "Here, it would seem, is a plant whose effects are
totally unsuitable to stimulate Indra and human warriors for battle." In
his answer to the problem indicated by Brough, Wasson sneers at Brough's
self-admitted lack of specialist qualifications in chemistry and
pharmacology and retorts (1972a: 15): "Wine as one of the Elements in the
Mass is analogous. From earliest times (indeed since Noah's days!) wine has
been known to cause nausea, vomiting, and coma; yet its sacramental r?le
stands unchallenged."

The situation is, however, not the same. The "ecstatic stupor" and "state
of unconsciousness" appear in Wasson's anecdotes of the use of fly-agaric
as quite regular effects appearing quite soon after the consumption of
doses that according to the descriptions are the normal ones (cf. also
Nyberg 1995: 391). In the case of wine normal consumption seems rather
accompanied by a whole range of effects from exhileration to drowsiness,
while "nausea, vomiting, and coma" befalls only those who consume it in
great excess (or who drink bad wine). It is also striking that
hallucinations and visions are reported in a considerable number of
Wasson's Amonita muscaria anecdotes; they apparently occur quite soon after
the consumption of the active substance of the mushrooms, and seem to be
part of the experience actually sought by the consumer. Brough (1971: 361)
draws attention to Ephedra, and to ephedrine isolated from Ephedra sinica
(Ma Huang). Ephedrine, according to Brough, "is a powerful stimulant, and
would thus be a more plausible preparation for warriors about to go into
battle than the fly-agaric, which is a depressant."

In Wasson's presentation the choice was between alcohol and a hallucinogen.
In Brough's formulation we have to choose between a hallucinogen and a
stimulant, whereas an alcoholic drink is for him not a suitable candidate
for the substance causing the Vedic people to attain exhileration (m/ada).
These seem to be the major options taken into consideration in the
post-Wasson era of the Soma-Haoma discussion. In 1975 Frits Staal appended
a discussion of the Soma-issue to his book on the exploration of mysticism.
Staal is quite impressed by Wasson's argument (1975: 204: "his
identification stands in splendid isolation as the only, and therefore the
best, theory"). But he demonstrates to be not entirely unaware of its
methodological shortcomings (1975: 202): "The only weakness that seems to
be apparent for Wasson's theory is a certain unfalsifiability. A good
theory should be liable to falsification. Theories which are true come what
may and which can never be refuted by facts are uninformative, tautologous,
or empty. In fact, apparent counterexamples to Wasson's theory can always
be interpreted as consistent with the theory. When opponents point out, for
example, that there are descriptions in the Veda which do not fit a
mushroom, Wasson replies that the identity of the Soma was intentionally
hidden by the Brahmans, or that these descriptions fit creepers or other
substitutes." Staal thus saw that Wasson takes the Veda at once as the
document on the basis of which the Soma can be identified as a mushroom,
and as a testimony of concerted attempts of Brahmins to mystify and hide
this identity: a very flexible employment indeed of a source taken as
crucial evidence.[24] Staal here distinguishes between only two options for
Soma, alcohol and a hallucinogen, thus neglecting the relevance of
psychoactive substances which have a primarily stimulant and ecstasy
promoting effect (without excluding the occurrence of hallucinations or
visions). In his book on the Agnicayana ritual (1983, I: 106), he
formulates his position with reference to Wasson's thesis as follows:
"Wasson's thesis implies, but is not implied by, a weaker thesis, namely
that the original Vedic Soma was a hallucinogenic plant [i.e., not
necessarily a mushroom, J.H.]. I regard this as the most important part of
Wasson's hypothesis ... " The restriction of possible psychoactive
candidates to substances known as hallucinogens, however, is unjustified.

A substitute for Soma mentioned in some of the ritual texts is Puut/iika.
The Puut/iika is also one of the additives in the clay of the Pravargya pot
- an object that is central in an esoteric, priestly ritual, the Pravargya
(cf. van Buitenen 1968, Houben 1991 and 2000). In an article published in
1975 (later appearing as the third chapter in Wasson et al. 1986), Stella
Kramrisch sought to prove that this Puut/iika was a mushroom having
psychotropic effects. According to her (1975: 230), "Puutika [sic], the
foremost, and possibly the only direct surrogate for Soma, is a mushroom.
When the fly-agaric no longer was available, another mushroom became its
substitute. ... The identification of Puutika [sic], the Soma surrogate,
supplies strong evidence that Soma indeed was a mushroom." Kramrisch'
identification goes via the mushroom called Putka by the Santals in Eastern
India. As Kuiper (1984) pointed out, the linguistic connection suggested by
Kramrisch does not hold. As pointed out in Houben 1991: 110, the ritual
texts prescribing the Puut/iika as an additive to the clay of the Pravargya
pot present it as an /oSadhi (KaTha-AraNyaka 2,11+) and as something
providing a firm basis from which he can attack the demon V.rtra
(TaittirIya-AraNyaka 2.9-10). Like other additives such as the animal hairs
and the material of an ant-hill, it was not exclusively symbolic as
Kramrisch believes, but had no doubt a pragmatic basis in providing extra
strength to the clay pot which is to withstand extremely hight temperatures
in the ritual of the heated milk offering. There is hence no basis to
regard the PUtIka as a mushroom, which takes away the additional evidence
that Soma were a mushroom.

Rainer Stuhrmann 1985 briefly reviews the Soma-discussion since Wasson
1969. He notes that critics of Wasson are right in maintaining that it is
not possible to classify Soma, but that they went too far in entirely
excluding a mushroom. He points out that even if the colour pictures which
Wasson attaches to phrases from the .Rgveda are seducingly suggestive, the
questionable nature of Wasson's interpretation of the verses must be
apparent to anyone who reads Geldner's or Renou's translation of the hymns
in their entirety. According to him, there are nevertheless three points
that can be considered settled:
(1) From the BrAhmaNas on, the original Soma was replaced by several other
plants, and such substitution is already indicated in the tenth book of the
(2) The original Soma cannot have been alcoholic, because there would not
have been time for the fermentation of the sap after the pressing;
moreover, both the .Rgveda and the Avesta contrast the effects of
Soma-Haoma with the alcoholic s/urA.
(3) The plant grows in the mountains.

Stuhrmann emphasizes that it is important to investigate the type of
intoxication produced by Soma and to conclude on that basis what type of
plant was used as Soma. He observes that several characteristics of the
Soma-hymns, such as their "formless tangle of images and mystic fantasies
[25]", importance of optic qualities in epithets of Soma, can be well
explained by hallucinogenic influence. Hence he concludes that in case Soma
would not be the fly-agaric it must at least be a plant containing

Stuhrmann's argument is carefully phrased, but it is in several respects
imprecise and contains a few crucial nonsequiturs. Stuhrmann states that
from the BrAhmaNas onwards the Soma was replaced by substitutes - a
distorted representation of facts that goes back to Wasson and Doniger
O'Flaherty: as we have seen, it is true that substitutes are mentioned, but
there is also still an awareness of the real Soma and of the fetching of
Soma from near by in case the "top quality" Soma of mountain MUjavat is
stolen. The view that substitution would have started at the time of the
composition of the tenth book of the .Rgveda is also already found with
Wasson, and likewise, Wasson supports his statement with a reference to
.Rgveda 10.85.3
*s/omam manyate papivAn y/at sampiMSanty /oSadhim /
s/omaM y/am brahm/ANo vidur n/a t/asyA/SnAti k/a/S can/a //
"One believes to have drunk the Soma when they press out the herb.
The Soma which the Brahmans know, no-one consumes of that one."

It is difficult to draw from this verse the conclusion that the Soma is not
a herb, as Stuhrmann tries to do (1985: 91 note 3), apart from being
something more abstract in the knowledge of Brahmans. Since the word
/oSadhi 'herb' would otherwise contradict Wasson's mushroom theory, he was
forced to see in the first two pAdas of the verse a reference to a
substitute, and in the last two pAdas a reference to the real Soma held
secret by the Brahmans. This in itself is already a quite contorted
interpretation. In the larger context of the hymn it proves to be
untenable. The first verse of this well-known hymn of the marriage of
sUry/A (fem.) with Soma (masc.) says that Soma is placed in heaven, and
hence makes it immediately clear that verse three presents a contrast
between the pressing of the Soma-plant on the earth and the Soma as moon
which latter cannot be consumed directly. There is no suggestion of a
substitute, only of an additional insight of the Brahmans with regard to a
plant (*/oSadhi*) which can be known and seen by all.

As for the exclusion of alcohol: the contrast with s/urA is indeed there.
Some process of fermentation or alteration of substances in the Soma plant
can nevertheless not be entirely excluded in the period between their
plucking and the employment in the ritual where the Soma-stalks are
sprinkled on a number of consecutive days preceding the pressing. As for
the mountains as the place of the Soma, it is clear that this applies to
top-quality Soma. The Avesta (10.17) speaks of Soma occurring on mountains
and in valleys (where the latter may, indeed, still be on high altitudes).

Next, Stuhrmann wants to infer the type of relevant plant-substance from
the type of intoxication produced by Soma. Stuhrmann refers here to .Rgveda
10.119 which is generally interpreted as the self-praise of Indra who
became drunk from drinking Soma. The speaker in the poem makes statements
such as: after having drunk the Soma, one of my wings is in heaven and the
other is being dragged on the earth. While the whole hymn could be seen as
poetic fiction, one may indeed see here a reference to a hallucination or
distorted perception, and the Soma would have a place in the causal nexus
leading to it. This does not mean that Soma must have been a hallucinogen
in the strict, modern sense of the term, especially because references to
Soma outside this exceptional hymn are not normally indicative of serious
hallucinations on the part of the authors. The latter point was argued by
Falk (1989), who, however, went too far in trying to completely exclude the
possibility that .Rgveda 10.119 points to a hallucinatory experience. Even
if we follow for the moment Stuhrmann in his acceptance of a hallucinogenic
effect of Soma, his conclusion at the end that the Soma plant must have
contained alkaloids is both too wide and too narrow. Even if alkaloids have
often psychoactive properties, instead of being predominantly hallucinogen
they also may have quite different properties such as CNS-stimulant,
sleep-inducing etc. On the other hand, hallucinations may have a basis in
other substances than alkaloids: any substance that can interact with the
biochemistry of the brain may induce distorted perceptions (among modern
products petrol or gasoline would be an example; cf. already Lewin 1927:
268f). In addition, a lack of nutritients through fasting and thirsting may
induce hallucinations as well. The same applies to the deprivation of
sleep. Most importantly, whether a substance or the absence of substances
does indeed produce a hallucination will usually depend to a large extent
on the physiological and psychological condition of the subject, whereas
the nature of the hallucination or vision will depend on his psychology and
cultural background.

That the Soma was not a hallucinogen but a stimulant, probably from a
species of Ephedra, was the view elaborated and defended by Harry Falk in
1987 at the World Sanskrit Conference in Leiden. In his paper (1989) he
places previous theories in three categories: (1) Soma is hallucinogenic;
(2) Soma needs fermentation and is alcoholic; (3) Soma is a stimulant.
Emphasizing the Vedic indications for a stimulant effect of Soma which
contributes to staying awake all night [26], he concludes that Soma-Haoma
must again be identified with Ephedra. To establish his position he not
only points out the properties of Ephedra and places in Vedic literature
indicating wakefulness and aphrodisiac effect in connection with Soma, but
also argues that the .Rgveda contains no references to hallucinations, not
even in .Rgveda 10.119 that is normally taken in that sense. (In the
present issue George Thompson argues, convincingly I think, for a
restoration of the "hallucinatory" character of this hymn.)

3.2 A fresh look at the Iranian evidence and a new hallucinogenic candidate
The same year 1989 saw the publication of the book Haoma and Harmaline by
David Stophlet Flattery and Martin Schwartz. Here the authors base
themselves mainly on Iranian evidence and provide an extensive and careful
argument that the Haoma- and Soma-plant was in fact Harmel, which contains
an alkaloid with hallucinogenic properties, harmaline (as well as harmine).
The authors are aware (1989: 67-68) that for centuries Zoroastrians of
central Iran have been using Ephedra - which they call *hom* - together
with another plant - parts from a twig of the pomegranate tree - in their
Haoma rituals. From the fact that in Nepal Ephedra is called *somalatA*
('Soma creeper') they infer that Ephedra was the plant used as Soma before
it was replaced by Sarcostemma which grows in tropical areas of India and
which was in use by Brahmins encountered by the Europeans in nineteenth
century India (1989: 69). Yet, they think that Ephedra cannot have been the
Haoma-Soma itself. For this, they have one main reason: we do not see that
contemporaneous Zoroastrian priests using Ephedra become intoxicated.
According to Flattery's and Schwartz's judgement, "sauma must have been
commonly known in ancient Iranian society as an intoxicating plant in order
for the credibility of the sauma ceremonies, and the authority of Iranian
priests claimed from them, to have been maintained. Despite being commonly
designated *haoma* (and the like), Ephedra is without suitable psychoactive
potential in fact (and is not regarded in traditional ethnobotany as having
any psychoactive properties at all) and, therefore, it cannot have been
believed to be the means to an experience from which the priests could
claim religious authority or widely believed to be the essential ingredient
of an *intoxicating* extract." They conclude that (1989: 74) "It is
therefore neither likely that Ephedra was a substitute for sauma
[Soma-Haoma] nor that it was sauma itself, yet, according to both Iranian
and Indian traditions, Ephedra was essentially linked with the extract
drunk during the ceremonies. The only way of reconciling this fact with the
considerations of the preceding paragraphs is to view Ephedra as an archaic
additive to the extract. Thus, Ephedra too would have been a soma-/haoma-
'pressed out (plant)', though not the only (or fundamental) one." The
argument is carefully structured. However, it may be observed that their
information regarding the properties of Ephedra and its alkaloids such as
Ephedrine was apparently incomplete or outdated. It is true that Ephedrine
and related alkaloids are best-known for their use in the case of asthma as
well as low blood-pressure (hypotension), but it is since long known that
it is also a general stimulant of the central nervous system. Hence its
psychiatric use, e.g. in manic depressive disorder.[27] What the authors
may not have been aware of in 1989 is that Ephedra would soon be marketed
as the "natural" (hence supposedly safe, and in any case less restricted
and regulated) alternative for the popular designer drug Ecstasy (XTC).[28]
It is not clear on which impressionistic basis they conclude that the
priests are not "intoxicated" nor what would qualify in their eyes as
"intoxication," i.e. the *maDa* of the Avestans and the *mada* of the Vedic

3.3 The evidence from brahmanic texts and ritual
In 1990 the renowned specialist in /Srauta-literature C.G. Kashikar
published his Identification of Soma, in which he argues for Ephedra as the
original plant used in the Vedic and Zoroastrian rituals.[30] The main
importance of this publication lies in the discussion of evidence of Vedic
ritual texts which are chronologically immediately following the .Rgveda
(the latter forming the point of departure for Wasson's identification).
Several Yajurvedic SaMhitAs, BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras not only refer to
the ceremonial purchase of Soma (where the seller is asked whether it comes
from the mUjavat mountain), but also to the contingency that the Soma is
snatched away before the sacrifice starts. In that case new Soma is to be
procured from the nearest spot. Only if Soma cannot be found the texts
prescribe that substitutes are to be resorted to.[31] It may be assumed
that the Soma that is procured from near by is of lower quality than the
stolen Soma from mountain MUjavat, otherwise it would have been employed in
the first place. Several /SrautasUtras prescribe Soma-juice in the daily
offering of the Agnihotra for those sacrificers who desire the lustre of
Brahman. This points on the one hand to authors being settled near the
northern part of the Indian subcontinent where Soma was still within reach;
on the other hand it is clear that Soma is a plant that has a wider habitat
than only a few mountains. The daily Soma of the Brahmins can hardly have
been the precious top-quality Soma from mount MUjavat required in the
AgniSToma. As for the botanical side of the issue, Kashikar relies mainly
on research of Qazilbash and Madhihassan (their publications, mainly
appearing between 1960 and 1986, were unavailable to me at the moment of
concluding this introduction).

In a review of Kashikar 1990, Thomas Oberlies (1995) makes some important
remarks, apart from giving additional bibliographic references. Oberlies
accepts with Kashikar that the BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras are aware of
*some* plant being the real Soma. However, there is insufficient evidence
for a positive identification. Referring to Brough 1971, Kashikar had
rejected Wasson's identification of Soma as the fly-agaric a mushroom. He
then simply takes the three main remaining plants that have been suggested
by scholars as being the Soma, and by exclusion of the first two,
Sarcostemma brevistigma and Periploca aphylla, he arrives at the conclusion
that it must have been Ephedra. Even when the BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras
seem to suggest awareness of *some* plant as the unequivocally real Soma,
Oberlies doubts whether it can be assumed that this was also the plant used
in the .Rgveda. This would only apply if there were an uninterrupted
continuity between .Rgveda and Yajurvedic texts. Oberlies mentions three
problems with the identification of Soma with Ephedra:
(1) The reddish-yellow (rot-gelb) colour is lacking (only the berries of
Ephedra are red but the berries are not mentioned in the texts).
(2) Juice pressed from Soma does not have a milky character, whereas the
.Rgveda speaks of "milking the (Soma-)stalks" and of Soma as the cow's
first milk after calving (pIy/USa 'beestings').
(3) Oberlies' most fundamental problem with the Ephedra-identification is
that Ephedra does not have the required hallucinogenic effect that is
attested in the .Rgvedic hymns.

Oberlies concludes his discussion with the observation that it is the
interpretation of the Soma-intoxication on the part of the Vedic poets in
the context of their referential frame which should receive more interest
and attention, rather than to lay excessive emphasis on the nature of the
substance (Cf. Oberlies 1998: 166). Similarly, Tatjana Elizarenkova (1996)
has emphasized the importance of the style and structure of .Rgvedic texts
behind which there are insufficient traces of the direct impact of a
psychoactive substance to make identification possible. Indeed, the
importance of the cultural "construction" of textual representations of
personal, including mystical, experience should not be underestimated. And
what applies to the study of mystical experience will apply equally to a
large domain of experiences resulting from psychoactive substances. After
earlier generations of authors with what may be called various
"essentialist" and "perennialist" approaches to mystic experience (William
James, Rudolph Otto, Mircea Eliade, Aldous Huxley), a constructivist
paradigm found wide acceptance in academic scholarship in the latter half
of the twentieth century; it has found committed and persistent expression
in a series of collective volumes on mysticism directed by Steven T. Katz
(1978, 1983, 1992, 2000).

In spite of his affinity to a constructivist approach when he argues for
studying the Vedic poet first of all in his religious context, from
Oberlies' third, most fundamental ("wesentlichste") problem, it is clear
that it is his unpronounced presupposition that indications for
hallucinations in the .Rgveda point directly to the use of a substance
having hallucinogenic effects. As we have seen above, convincing
indications for hallucinations, apart from the quite explicit .Rgveda
10.119, are rare, and even if these should not be explained away, they are
to be weighed against other indications which point to an absence of
hallucination, but rather to a powerful stimulant suitable to divine and
human warriors that cannot afford to perceive things that have no basis in
objective reality.

The second point is to be studied against the background of .Rgvedic poetic
usage, where among other things thoughts can be obtained from an udder
(5.44.13), or where an inspired poem can be compared with a dairy cow
(3.57.1), or where there is no problem in speaking of the "udder of the
father" (3.1.9). To satisfy the literalists who insist that, even with the
extensive evidence that "milking" is a central and flexible metaphore for
"deriving something precious from", pIy/USa 'beestings' (formerly also
spelt 'biestings', medical name 'colostrum') must absolutely be taken as
having not only relational but also physical characteristics of milk, it
can be pointed out that the long sessions of beating the Soma-plant with
the stampers or press-stones can be expected to give a pulpy-watery mixture
in a first pressing which may have looked like the creamy fluid with
special nutritious and protective ingredients that a cow produces for a new
born calf. Such pulpy-watery mixture is what I saw come forth from the
pounding of the Soma-substitute called Puutiika (probably Sarcostemma
brevistigma) in Soma sacrifices in Maharashtra and New Delhi. Several ideas
may hence underlie the use of the term pIy/USa 'beestings': the first juice
appearing from the pressing is "beestings" by virtue of its being the first
fluid produced from the stalks; it is "beestings" by virtue of its
pulpy-watery, hence somewhat cream-like, character; it is "beestings" on
account of its nutritious and protective potency. Finally, those invoking
the .Rgvedic references to beestings as an argument against Ephedra seem to
have overlooked that the cow's first milk after calving is usually not
white but may have all kinds of colours, from yellowish to greenish and
purple, which does not constitute a contra-indication for its quality. This
applies at least to the cows common in Europe, as I understood from a
well-informed relative.[32] The metaphoric flexibility of terms in the
sphere of "milking" in any case prevents pIy/USa from being an argument
against the Ephedra candidate. As for the problem of the reddish-yellow
colour attributed to Soma: in Oberlies' brief statement, where he mixes up
"reddish-yellow (rot-gelb)" and "red (rot)" or at least opaquely shifts
from the one to the other, there is nothing that would invalidate Brough's
1971 extensive discussion of the colour-term in his criticism of Wasson.

A particularly problematic part in Oberlies' argument lies in his attempt
to disconnect the evidence of BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras from that of the
.Rgveda. Oberlies observes (1995: 236) that Kashikar presupposes that the
plant used as Soma according to the BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras is
identical with that of the .Rgveda. However, according to Oberlies this
would apply only if there were an uninterrupted continuity from the .Rgveda
to the Yajurveda with regard to beliefs, rituals and cults. Since this
cannot be accepted (Oberlies asks rhetorically: who could seriously believe
this, with exclamation mark), statements in the BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras
would prove little for the .Rgveda (with exclamation mark). A few
paragraphs further (1995: 237), he acknowledges that Kashikar's conclusions
provide new insights for the BrAhmaNas. Here, the Soma may have been
Ephedra. But, he adds, this was in all probability not the "original" (with
exclamation mark).

In spite of all the exclamation marks, Oberlies' line of reasoning is
neither self-evident nor convincing. At first, he makes the *general
statement* that we cannot assume there was an uninterrupted continuity from
the .Rgveda to the Yajurveda with regard to beliefs, rituals and cults. On
the next page, it is suddenly *most probable* that there is no continuity
*in the specific case* of the knowledge of the Soma-plant. This is like
observing first that one cannot be sure that traffic rules in Italy are the
same as in France, and next that it is most probable that when the French
drive on the right side of the road the Italians must drive left. It is
well known that there are indeed important distinctions between the .Rgveda
and the Yajurveda and subsequent sources, including with regard to the
ritual. However, these distinctions appear only against the background of a
massive flood of elementary and structural continuities, which in many
cases extend even to proto-Indo-Iranian times. It is also well-known that
especially ritual has a tendency to be conservative, even when
interpretations and belief systems change. In the beginning days of
Indology, scholars like Roth have emphasized the independence of the
.Rgveda from the later ritual texts. Vedic hymns would be expressions of
"natural" lyrics which had little to do with the detailed liturgical
practice as found in later texts. Close studies of scholars have in the
meantime shown that there are numerous continuities and that the large
majority of .Rgvedic hymns suit ritual contexts which are still part of the
"classical" ritual system as found in the Yajurvedic texts (cf. Gonda 1975:
83ff and 1978). In addition, in several specific cases such as the animal
sacrifice (Bosch 1985) and the Pravargya (Houben 2000), the basic
continuities and structural changes have been demonstrated in detail. In
the case of the Soma-ritual, pervading not only the ninth maNDala but the
entire .Rgveda, a comprehensive study and reconstruction of its .Rgvedic
form is still a desideratum even if we have an important preliminary study
in the form of Bergaigne's "Recherches sur l'histoire de la liturgie
v?dique" (1889; cf. also Renou 1962 and Witzel 1997: 288ff). In the light
of this background of continuities, Oberlies' gratuitous assumption that
there must be discontinuity in the case of the plant that is central in the
most dominant .Rgvedic Soma ritual is unsound. In the light of what we know
of ritual in general and Vedic ritual and culture and of ritual in
particular a much more reasonable starting point will be to assume that
there is continuity unless there is an indication to the contrary. Such
indications pointing to a rupture in the knowledge of a specific
Soma-plant, as briefly indicated in Kashikar 1990, are not found in
classical Yajurvedic texts which continue to refer back the practicing
Brahman to an identifiable real Soma-plant even if he is occasionally
allowed to sacrifice with a substitute.

A position somewhat parallel to the view of Oberlies was adopted by Frits
Staal, who recently devoted an article to "the case of Soma" (Staal
2001).[33] In his usual challenging and stimulating style, Staal argues
that the elaborate Soma ritual as known from classical sources replaces an
earlier phase where the "real" Soma was known, and where ritualization was
much less than later on. Hence the title of the article: How a psychoactive
substance becomes a ritual. Again, in my view without sufficient basis two
specific changes are assumed in the transition from .Rgvedic ritual to the
ritual of the /SrautasUtras: a loss in the knowledge of the original Soma
and an increase in ritualization. He summarizes his main hypothesis in the
form of a mathematical formula:

ritualization * psychoactivity = S

where S is a constant. Unfortunately, no data are offered to substantiate
this formula. The fact that the /SrautasUtras are later than the .Rgveda
neither means that ritual was absent in .Rgvedic times nor that it was
"less" (in whichever way one may want to measure it) - even if there have
been undeniable *transformations* as for instance in the transition from
family-wise to school-wise organised ritual and religion, and the
transition in the direction of a more Yajurveda dominated ritual. Even when
there seems to have been more room for .Rgvedic poetic creativity in
earlier times, the activity of these poets was following strict ritual
patterns and rules now not known in detail but reflecting in regularities
in the poetic productions. Since a substance may be "psychoactive" in
various dimensions, nothing can be said about its general relation with
ritualization - if at all we would have sufficient data about the latter in
different stages of its development, and if at all, with all those
hypothetical data, the latter would be quantifiable. The terms
ritualization and psychoactivity remain unquantified in Staal's article and
are probably fundamentally unquantifiable the way they are used. Staal's
formula may hence be understood in a "metaphorically mathematical" sense, a
bit like Bierstadt's proposal to take political and social power to be the
product of "men * resources * organization" (Bierstadt 1950 as referred to
in Rappaport 1999: 473 note 13). Even in such a "metaphorically
mathematical" sense, Staal's formula remains problematic - but can it
perhaps be split into acceptable subformula's? One disturbing factor
interfering with the phenomenon which Staal tries to catch in a formula is
that ritual structure, including ritual utterances of linguistic forms, may
itself be conducive to "psychoactive" results.[34] More substantial
problems arise on account of the fact that there are psychoactive
substances which produce effects in a specific dimension such that its
increase is correlated not with a decrease but with an *increase* of a
subject's need for "ritualistic" or "compulsive" actions.[35] There are,
moreover, wider theoretical problems with the hypothesis and formula. Even
when precise data generally become less and less if we go further back in
time, there are theoretical reasons to assume that ritualization was more
rather than less if we gradually approach the pre-human stage in the
evolution of the human animal. Staal himself (1989: 110ff, 279ff) argued
that ritual, which man shares with birds and other animals, precedes
language as we know it with its lexical meanings, characteristic for
humans. After having pointed out similarities between syntactic rules in
language and ritual, he finds various reasons to believe that ritual is the
cause: "this suggests that the recursiveness which is the main
characteristic of the syntax of human language has a ritual origin" (Staal
1989: 112). In language, syntax would be older than semantics (Staal 1989:
112). Referring to the "unenunciated chant" of the SAmavedins and to
meditation mantras, Staal observes: "I am inclined to believe that what we
witness here is not a curious collection of exotic facts, but a remnant or
resurgence of a pre-linguistic stage of development, during which man or
his ancestors used sound in a purely syntactic or ritual manner" (Staal
1989: 113). Staal also argued in detail that the similarity between Vedic
mantras and bird songs are greater than that between mantras and ordinary
meaning (Staal 1989: 279-293). The continuity with animal ritual has been
argued for and demonstrated from quite a different angle by Walter Burkert,
who took ancient Greek ritual as his starting point (cf. Burkert 1979 and

Against this theoretical background it is not convincing to let the
.Rgvedic Soma-ritual start in a romantic era in which man has direct
religious experience through psychoactive substances and is not yet living
a life replete with ritualizations.

An additional problematic point in Staal's article is the suggestion (Staal
2001: 771) that the descriptions found of Soma growing on high mountains
would disqualify the "ubiquitous" Ephedra (the latter, in fact, not being
all that ubiquitous: it does not occur in mid- and South India, and has a
preference for high altitudes). The argument would be tenable only if our
sources presented the Soma as growing on high mountains *exclusively*,
which is not the case. The ritualist's question to the Soma-seller "is it
from mount Mujavat", as we have seen, asks for Soma-plants of top-quality,
and it is presupposed that second-rate Soma-plants are more readily

4.1. Parameters of the Soma-Haoma problem
In the present state of knowledge, any claim that the Soma has been
identified is either rhetorical or it testifies to the methodological
naivety of the author. In reviewing some of the more recent contributions
from Wasson onwards I have not hidden my own direction of thinking. In
spite of quite strong attempts to do away with Ephedra by those who are
eager to see Soma as a hallucinogen, its status as a serious candidate for
the .Rgvedic Soma and Avestan Haoma still stands. For more than the serious
candidacy of Ephedra (or more generally of a stimulant), however, there are
at present no arguments; and alternative candidates cannot be excluded. The
attention paid to the nature of the psycho-physiological state induced by
the Soma, most dramatically emphasized by Wasson, is justified. The trap,
however, in which Wasson and most scholars defending or attacking him have
fallen is to assume that this psychophysiological state must be attributed
straightly to a psychoactive substance which brings about a similar state
in modern, western, well-fed, and possibly smoking and drinking subjects.
It must be clear that this is a shortsighted, anachronistic
presupposition.[36] It is generally forgotten that participants in a Vedic
ritual have undergone preparations which include fasting, restraining
speech, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation by spending the day in a
dark hut, etc. According to the /SrautasUtras, the sacrificer has to fast
"until he has become lean". Less is known about the specific preparations
of the priests for the sacrifice. I am not sure whether such preparations
are simply not current among modern Brahmins performing in Vedic (/Srauta)
rituals, or whether they have been mainly neglected by observers. (I do not
find a reference to such a practice in Staal's overview of the preparations
to the Agnicayana in Kerala, 1975, see Staal 1983, I: 193ff.) In any case,
Stevenson, in the preface to his translation of the SAmaveda (1842:
VIIIff), mentions references in a BrAhmaNa of the SAmaveda to extensive
austerities (including living on restricted food for months and complete
fasting for several days) to be undergone by the priest-singers of the
SAmaveda in preparation for a performance. It is well known that fasting
alone is a suitable preparation for the physiology to receive visionary
experiences. Of the North-American Indians of the Plains it is known that
they undertake their vision quests without the help of specific
psychoactive substances (except for some who recently adopted the use of
substances used by Mexican Indians), but subject themselves to rigorous
fasting and thirsting.[37]

The human capacity for imagination, vision and hallucination seems to have
been underestimated by Wasson and others. Just because Apollinaire
(1880-1918) published the "visionary" poem Vend?miaire in his collection
Alcools we do not put the label "hallucinogen" on alcohol. A frequently
quoted phrase from William Blake (1757-1827), the poet who was influenced
by Emanuel Swedenborg in his enlightened Christian views, is "To see a
world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in
the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour" - but there is no reason to
assume that Blake's visions, reflected in his poetry and life anecdotes,
were induced by a psychoactive substance.

Thus, with little .Rgvedic evidence for hallucinations in the strict sense
of the word - i.e., perceptions without any objective basis - and with
otherwise a wide spread of .Rgvedic statements pointing in the direction of
a stimulant, the case for a substance which we label as a hallucinogen is
far from compelling. Apart from 10.119, most examples which should testify
to hallucinatory experiences of the authors can be easily explained as
expressions in a professional tradition of poetic imagery.[38] On the other
hand, the case for a stimulant still stands,[39] even with the evidence for
occasional hallucinations and visions in the .Rgveda, because (a)
hallucinations and visions may occur even on account of the absence of
consumption of food or the deprivation of sleep rather than on account of
the consumption of specific additives; (b) stimulants allow subjects to
remain without food more easily (hence their use in weight-loss programs),
and by virtue of this they may be deemed to be able to contribute to
hallucinations and visions; (c) in higher doses and under suitable
circumstances (e.g., exposure to rythms and music), stimulants such as
cocaine and MDMA (XTC) are reported to lead to ecstasy and

Apart from the distinction between stimulant and hallucinogen, a case can
be made for a substance with more subtle psychoactivity than the
sensational fly-agaric proposed by Wasson,[41] in combination with an
elaborate structure of beliefs, interpretations, and physiological
preparations (fasting, silence) of subjects. Especially since Wasson,
scholars interested in the identification of Soma have been overly focused
on the single parameter of the psychoactive substance in the Soma-plant,
and neglected the contributions of the ritual and the belief system to the
construction of experiences reflected in .Rgvedic hymns. Others did
emphasize the belief system and the construction of experience, e.g.,
Elizarenkova and to some extent Oberlies, and they declared the search for
the identification of Soma to be more or less hopeless. No convincing
attempt has so far been made to balance the available indications for all

...or something

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Registered: 01/31/03
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Last seen: 12 years, 11 months
Re: Soma [Re: eve69]
    #2028373 - 10/21/03 12:51 PM (13 years, 1 month ago)

I personally think that the SOMA could very well be A.Muscaria. When I had taken 7.5g of the orange variety it quieted my mind and I went into a trance like state of meditation for over 3 hours. It was an intense experience and one that I hope to try again. It is definitely in no way poisonous and not hard to indentify, as long as you read up on it you would be fine.

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