Soma

Soma

Overview

Soma or Haoma
Haoma
Haoma is the Avestan language name of a plant and its divinity, both of which play a role in Zoroastrian doctrine and in later Persian culture and mythology. The Middle Persian form of the name is hōm, which continues to be the name in Modern Persian and other living Iranian languages.Sacred haoma...

(Avestan), from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sauma-, was a ritual drink of importance among the early Indo-Iranians
Indo-Iranians
Indo-Iranian peoples are a linguistic group consisting of the Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Dardic and Nuristani peoples; that is, speakers of Indo-Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family....

, and the subsequent Vedic and greater Persian
Greater Iran
Greater Iran refers to the regions that have significant Iranian cultural influence. It roughly corresponds to the territory on the Iranian plateau and its bordering plains, stretching from Iraq, the Caucasus, and Turkey in the west to the Indus River in the east...

 cultures. It is frequently mentioned in the Rigveda
Rigveda
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

, whose Soma Mandala contains 114 hymns, many praising its energizing qualities. In the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

, Haoma has the entire Yašt 20 and Yasna
Yasna
Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

 9-11 dedicated to it.

The RigVeda calls the plant the "God for Gods" seemingly giving him precedence above Indra and the other Gods (RV 9.42)

It is described as prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant.
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Soma or Haoma
Haoma
Haoma is the Avestan language name of a plant and its divinity, both of which play a role in Zoroastrian doctrine and in later Persian culture and mythology. The Middle Persian form of the name is hōm, which continues to be the name in Modern Persian and other living Iranian languages.Sacred haoma...

(Avestan), from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sauma-, was a ritual drink of importance among the early Indo-Iranians
Indo-Iranians
Indo-Iranian peoples are a linguistic group consisting of the Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Dardic and Nuristani peoples; that is, speakers of Indo-Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family....

, and the subsequent Vedic and greater Persian
Greater Iran
Greater Iran refers to the regions that have significant Iranian cultural influence. It roughly corresponds to the territory on the Iranian plateau and its bordering plains, stretching from Iraq, the Caucasus, and Turkey in the west to the Indus River in the east...

 cultures. It is frequently mentioned in the Rigveda
Rigveda
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

, whose Soma Mandala contains 114 hymns, many praising its energizing qualities. In the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

, Haoma has the entire Yašt 20 and Yasna
Yasna
Yasna is the name of the primary liturgical collection of texts of the Avesta as well as the name of the principal Zoroastrian act of worship at which those verses are recited. The Yasna, or Izeshne, is primarily the name of the ceremony in which the entire book is recited and appropriate...

 9-11 dedicated to it.

The RigVeda calls the plant the "God for Gods" seemingly giving him precedence above Indra and the other Gods (RV 9.42)

It is described as prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant. In both Vedic and Zoroastrian tradition, the name of the drink and the plant are the same, and also personified as a divinity, the three forming a religious or mythological unity.

There has been much speculation concerning what is most likely to have been the identity of the original plant. There is no solid consensus on the question, although most Western experts outside the Vedic and Avestan religious traditions now seem to favour a species of Ephedra
Ephedra (genus)
Ephedra is a genus of gymnosperm shrubs, the only genus in its family, Ephedraceae, and order, Ephedrales. Ephedra grows in dry climates over wide areas of the northern hemisphere, including southwestern North America, Europe, north Africa, and southwest and central Asia, and, in the southern...

, perhaps Ephedra sinica.

Etymology


Both Soma and the Avestan Haoma
Haoma
Haoma is the Avestan language name of a plant and its divinity, both of which play a role in Zoroastrian doctrine and in later Persian culture and mythology. The Middle Persian form of the name is hōm, which continues to be the name in Modern Persian and other living Iranian languages.Sacred haoma...

are derived from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sauma-. The name of the Scythia
Scythia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe...

n tribe Hauma-varga is related to the word, and probably connected with the ritual. The word is derived from an Indo-Iranian root *sav- (Sanskrit sav-/su) "to press", i.e. *sau-ma- is the drink prepared by pressing the stalks of a plant. The root is Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 (*sew(h)-)

Vedic Soma


In the Vedas
Vedas
The Vedas are a large body of texts originating in ancient India. Composed in Vedic Sanskrit, the texts constitute the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism....

, Soma is portrayed as sacred and as a god (deva
Deva (Hinduism)
' is the Sanskrit word for god or deity, its related feminine term is devi. In modern Hinduism, it can be loosely interpreted as any benevolent supernatural beings. The devs in Hinduism, also called Suras, are often juxtaposed to the Asuras, their half brothers. Devs are also the maintainers of...

). The god, the drink, and the plant refer to the same entity. Drinking Soma produces immortality (Amrita, Rigveda 8.48.3).Amrita
Amrita
Amrit is a Sanskrit word that literally means "immortality", and is often referred to in texts as nectar. The word's earliest occurrence is in the Rigveda where it is one of several synonyms of soma, the drink which confers immortality upon the gods. It is related etymologically to the Greek...

 is phonetically and conceptually very similar to the Greek ambrosia
Ambrosia
In ancient Greek mythology, ambrosia is sometimes the food or drink of the Greek gods , often depicted as conferring ageless immortality upon whoever consumes it...

; both is what the gods drink, and what made them deities. Indra
Indra
' or is the King of the demi-gods or Devas and Lord of Heaven or Svargaloka in Hindu mythology. He is also the God of War, Storms, and Rainfall.Indra is one of the chief deities in the Rigveda...

 and Agni
Agni
Agni is a Hindu deity, one of the most important of the Vedic gods. He is the god of fire and the acceptor of sacrifices. The sacrifices made to Agni go to the deities because Agni is a messenger from and to the other gods...

 are portrayed as consuming Soma in copious quantities. The consumption of Soma by human beings is well attested in Vedic ritual.

The Rigveda
Rigveda
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

(8.48.3, tr. Griffith
Ralph T.H. Griffith
Ralph Thomas Hotchkin Griffith , scholar of indology, Son of B.A. of Queen's College was elected to the vacant Sanskrit Scholarship on Nov 24, 1849. He translated the Vedic scriptures into English. He also produced translations of other Sanskrit literature, including a verse version of the...

) states,
a
c
We have drunk Soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Now what may foeman's malice do to harm us? What, O Immortal, mortal man's deception?


The Ninth Mandala
Mandala 9
The ninth Mandala of the Rigveda, also called the Soma Mandala, has 114 hymns, entirely devoted to , "Purifying Soma", the sacred potion of the Vedic religion....

 of the Rigveda
Rigveda
The Rigveda is an ancient Indian sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns...

 is known as the Soma Mandala. It consists entirely of hymns addressed to Soma Pavamana ("purified Soma"). The drink Soma was kept and distributed by the Gandharva
Gandharva
Gandharva is a name used for distinct mythological beings in Hinduism and Buddhism; it is also a term for skilled singers in Indian classical music.-In Hinduism:...

s. The Rigveda associates the Sushoma, Arjikiya and other regions with Soma (e.g. 8.7.29; 8.64.10-11). Sharyanavat was possibly the name of a pond or lake on the banks of which Soma could be found. It is described as "green-tinted" and "bright-shining" in the RigVeda. (R.V., 9.42.1 and 9.61.17)

The plant is often described as growing in the mountains (giristha, cf. Orestes
Orestes
Orestes was the son of Agamemnon in Greek mythology; Orestes may also refer to:Drama*Orestes , by Euripides*Orestes, the character in Sophocles' tragedy Electra*Orestes, the character in Aeschylus' trilogy of tragedies, Oresteia...

), notably Mount Mūjavant. It has long stalks, and is of yellow or tawny (hari
Hari
Hari is an Avatar, another name of and , and appears as the 650th name in the Vishnu sahasranama of Mahabharata. In Sanskrit "hari" sometimes refers to a colour, green, yellow, or fawn-coloured/khaki. It is the colour of the Sun and of Soma...

) colour. The drink is prepared by priests pounding the plants with stones. The juice so gathered is filtered through lamb's wool, and mixed with other ingredients (including cow milk) before it is drunk. It is said to "roar". It is said to be the bringer of the gods.

Later, knowledge of the ingredient was lost altogether, and Indian ritual reflects this, in expiatory prayers apologizing to the gods for the use of a substitute plant (somalataa, e.g. the pūtīka) because Soma had become unavailable. In the Vedic ritual Agnistoma (or Somayaga), Soma is to be presented as the main offering.As Soma became increasingly difficult to obtain as the Vedic people continued their migration away from the plant's homeland, there was a need to find substitutes. The substitution of one element in a sacrifice for another was in harmony with an underlying principle of Vedic ritual - the victim is a substitute for the sacrificer.The texts provide an extensive list of plants that can be used as substitutes and end the list by saying that any plant is acceptable, provided it is yellow.

Traditional accounts


The ritual of Somayajna is still held with unbroken continuity in the South India. The Somalatha (Sanskrit: Soma creeper) which is procured in small quantities from the Himalayan region is used to prepare Soma rasam or Soma juice. It is also used in these areas in Ayurveda
Ayurveda
Ayurveda or ayurvedic medicine is a system of traditional medicine native to India and a form of alternative medicine. In Sanskrit, words , meaning "longevity", and , meaning "knowledge" or "science". The earliest literature on Indian medical practice appeared during the Vedic period in India,...

 and Siddha medicine
Siddha medicine
The Siddha medicine is one of the oldest medical systems known to mankind. This system of medicine originated from south Indian Tamil traditional medicine, as part of the trio Indian medicines - ayurveda, siddha and unani. This system was very popular in ancient India...

 streams since time immemorial. The herb which is used is Sarcostemma
Sarcostemma
Sarcostemma is a genus of at least 35 species of flowering plants in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae. The name is derived from the Greek words σαρκὸς , meaning "flesh," and στέμμα , meaning "garland". Members of the genus are known generally as climbing milkweeds or caustic bushes...

 acidum
.

Avestan Haoma


The finishing of Haoma in Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

 may be glimpsed from the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

 (particularly in the Hōm Yast, Yasna 9), and Avestan language
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 *hauma also survived as middle Persian
Middle Persian
Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

 hōm. The plant Haoma yielded the essential ingredient for the ritual drink, parahaoma. It is to be noted here that the Persians used the phonetic "Ha" instead of "Sa" in their language. For example they called river Sarasvati , Haravati; River Sindhu is called Hindu ( some believe this is the root of the Hindu nomenclature), and here we see them call Soma - Haoma.

In the Hōm yašt of the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

, the Yazata
Yazata
Yazata is the Avestan language word for a Zoroastrian concept. The word has a wide range of meanings but generally signifies a divinity...

(divine) Haoma appears to Zoroaster "at the time of pressing" (havani ratu) in the form of a beautiful man. Yasna 9.1 and 9.2 exhort him to gather and press Haoma plants. Haoma's epitheta include "the Golden-Green One" (zairi-, Sanskrit hari-), "righteous" (ašavan-), "furthering righteousness" (aša-vazah-), and "of good wisdom" (hu.xratu-, Sanskrit sukratu-).

In Yasna 9.22, Haoma grants "speed and strength to warriors, excellent and righteous sons to those giving birth, spiritual power and knowledge to those who apply themselves to the study of the nasks". As the religion's chief cult divinity he came to be perceived as its divine priest. In Yasna 9.26, Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazda
Ahura Mazdā is the Avestan name for a divinity of the Old Iranian religion who was proclaimed the uncreated God by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism...

 is said to have invested him with the sacred girdle, and in Yasna 10.89, to have installed Haoma as the "swiftly sacrificing zaotar" (Sanskrit hotar) for himself and the Amesha Spenta
Amesha Spenta
' is an Avestan language term for a class of divine entities in Zoroastrianism, and literally means "Bounteous Immortal" The noun is amesha "immortal", and spenta "furthering, strengthening, bounteous, holy" is an adjective of it...

. Haoma services were celebrated at least until the 1960s and 1970s in a strongly conservative village near Yazd
Yazd
Yazd is the capital of Yazd Province in Iran, and a centre of Zoroastrian culture. The city is located some 175 miles southeast of Isfahan. At the 2006 census, the population was 423,006, in 114,716 families....

.

But the Avesta also warns of misuse. He distinguishes between the currently used drug-like Haoma, including Opium, and the real Divine Haoma.

Candidates for the Soma plant


There has been much speculation as to the original Proto-Indo-Iranian Sauma plant. It was generally assumed to be Entheogenic
Psychedelics, dissociatives and deliriants
This general group of pharmacological agents can be divided into three broad categories: psychedelics, dissociatives, and deliriants. These classes of psychoactive drugs have in common that they can cause subjective changes in perception, thought, emotion and consciousness...

, based on RV 8.48 cited above (we have attained the light). Many descriptions of Soma are associated with excitation. Soma is associated with the warrior-god Indra
Indra
' or is the King of the demi-gods or Devas and Lord of Heaven or Svargaloka in Hindu mythology. He is also the God of War, Storms, and Rainfall.Indra is one of the chief deities in the Rigveda...

, and has been drunk by him before his battle with Vṛtra. For these reasons, there are stimulant (amphetamine like) plants as well as entheogenic plants among the candidates that have been suggested. Soma is also often associated with Light and Indra is the "Lord of Light" as shown in the following verses from the RgVeda: RV 8.82.25 For thee, O Lord of Light, are shed these Soma-drops, and grass is strewn. Bring Indra to his worshippers. May Indra give thee skill, and lights of heaven, wealth to his votary. And priests who praise him: laud ye him.

A more plausible, realistic explanation may be that the plant is opium
Opium
Opium is the dried latex obtained from the opium poppy . Opium contains up to 12% morphine, an alkaloid, which is frequently processed chemically to produce heroin for the illegal drug trade. The latex also includes codeine and non-narcotic alkaloids such as papaverine, thebaine and noscapine...

, the region's best known and most cultivated narcotic crop. "Soma" is Vedic
Vedic
Vedic may refer to:* the Vedas, the oldest preserved Indic texts** Vedic Sanskrit, the language of these texts** Vedic period, during which these texts were produced** Vedic pantheon of gods mentioned in Vedas/vedic period...

 Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 for "moon", describing both the shape of the bulb and its nocturnal juice emission, which in ancient times would have been visible by moonlight only. This term may be derived from the Sanskrit words "rddhi" and "hrdya", which mean "magical", "a type of medicinal plant", and "heart-pleasing." To date, the upper South Asian belt of Afghanistan, Pakistan, northern India, and Burma still account for the world's largest supply of opium.

There are several references in the RgVeda, associating Soma with the visionary seeing of Light e.g. RV 9.4, RV 9.5, RV 9.8, RV 9.10, RV 9.42.

Candidates that have been suggested include honey
Honey
Honey is a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans...

, and fly agaric
Amanita muscaria
Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita , is a poisonous and psychoactive basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita...

 (Amanita muscaria), which was widely used among Siberian shamans for its entheogen
Entheogen
An entheogen , in the strict sense, is a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context. Historically, entheogens were mostly derived from plant sources and have been used in a variety of traditional religious contexts...

ic properties. Several texts like the Atharvaveda
Atharvaveda
The Atharvaveda is a sacred text of Hinduism and one of the four Vedas, often called the "fourth Veda"....

 extol the medicinal properties of Soma and he is regarded as the king of medicinal herbs (and also of the Brahmana
Brahmana
The Brāhmaṇas are part of the Hindu śruti literature. They are commentaries on the four Vedas, detailing the proper performance of rituals....

 class).

From the late 1960s onwards, several studies attempted to establish soma as a psychoactive substance
Psychoactive drug
A psychoactive drug, psychopharmaceutical, or psychotropic is a chemical substance that crosses the blood–brain barrier and acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it affects brain function, resulting in changes in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior...

. A number of proposals were made, including one in 1968 by the American banker R. Gordon Wasson, an amateur ethnomycologist, who asserted that soma was an inebriant, and suggested fly-agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria
Amanita muscaria
Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita , is a poisonous and psychoactive basidiomycete fungus, one of many in the genus Amanita...

, as the likely candidate. Since its introduction in 1968, this theory has gained both detractors and followers in the anthropological literature.

Wasson and his co-author, Wendy Doniger
Wendy Doniger
Wendy Doniger is an American Indologist and Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the Committee on Social Thought...

 O'Flaherty, drew parallels between Vedic descriptions and reports of Siberian uses of the fly-agaric in shamanic
Shamanism
Shamanism is an anthropological term referencing a range of beliefs and practices regarding communication with the spiritual world. To quote Eliade: "A first definition of this complex phenomenon, and perhaps the least hazardous, will be: shamanism = technique of ecstasy." Shamanism encompasses the...

 ritual.

Since the late 18th century, when Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron
Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron
Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron was the first professional French scholar of Indian culture. He conceived the institutional framework for the new profession. He inspired the founding of the Ecole francaise d'extreme orient a century after his death and, later still, the founding of the...

 and others made portions of the Avesta available to western scholars, several scholars have sought a representative botanical equivalent of the haoma as described in the texts and as used in living Zoroastrian practice. In the late 19th century, the highly conservative Zoroastrians of Yazd
Yazd
Yazd is the capital of Yazd Province in Iran, and a centre of Zoroastrian culture. The city is located some 175 miles southeast of Isfahan. At the 2006 census, the population was 423,006, in 114,716 families....

 (Iran) were found to use Ephedra
Ephedra
Ephedra refers to the plant Ephedra sinica. E. sinica, known in Chinese as ma huang , has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for 5,000 years for the treatment of asthma and hay fever, as well as for the common cold...

 (genus Ephedra
Ephedra (genus)
Ephedra is a genus of gymnosperm shrubs, the only genus in its family, Ephedraceae, and order, Ephedrales. Ephedra grows in dry climates over wide areas of the northern hemisphere, including southwestern North America, Europe, north Africa, and southwest and central Asia, and, in the southern...

), which was locally known as hum or homa and which they exported to the Indian Zoroastrians. There are numerous mountain regions in the northwestern Indian subcontinent which have cool and dry conditions where ephedra plants can grow. Unfortunately for these scholars, ephedra is not used in any type of sacrificial activity by Hindu priests and their Vedic homams today. Later Vedic texts mention that the best soma plants came from Mount Mūjavant, which may be located as in northern Kashmir and in neighboring western Xinjiang. Unfortunately, ephedra is not used in any type of sacrificial activity by Hindu priests today, nor is it actively cultivated in the open trade economies of South Asia.

In 1989 Harry Falk noted that, in the texts, both haoma and soma were said to enhance alertness and awareness, did not coincide with the consciousness altering effects of an entheogen
Entheogen
An entheogen , in the strict sense, is a psychoactive substance used in a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context. Historically, entheogens were mostly derived from plant sources and have been used in a variety of traditional religious contexts...

, and that "there is nothing shamanistic or visionary either in early Vedic or in Old Iranian texts", (Falk, 1989) Falk made a crucial error is assuming that ephedra reacts like ephedrine; ephedra is less like adrenaline and more a potent bronchodilator. Falk also asserted that the three varieties of ephedra that yield ephedrine (geradiana, major procera and intermedia
Ephedra intermedia
Ephedra intermedia is a species of Ephedra that is native to Southwest and Central Asia. It was originally described by Alexander Gustav von Schrenk and Carl Anton von Meyer in 1846 and placed in section Pseudobaccatae , "tribe" Pachycladae by Otto Stapf in 1889. In 1996 Robert A...

) also have the properties attributed to haoma by the texts of the Avesta. (Falk, 1989) At the conclusion of the 1999 Haoma-Soma workshop in Leiden, Jan E. M. Houben writes: "despite strong attempts to do away with ephedra by those who are eager to see *sauma as a hallucinogen, its status as a serious candidate for the Rigvedic Soma and Avestan Haoma still stands" (Houben, 2003).

The Graeco-Russian archeologist Viktor Sarianidi
Viktor Sarianidi
Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi or Victor Sarigiannides is a well-known Soviet archaeologist of Pontic Greek descent. He discovered the remains of a Bronze Age culture in the Karakum Desert in 1976...

 claims to have discovered vessels and mortars used to prepare Soma in 'Zoroastrian temples' in Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

. He claims that the vessels have revealed residues and seed impressions left behind during the preparation of Soma. This has not been
sustained by subsequent investigations Besides the residue of ephedra, the archeologists discovered the residues of Poppy seeds
Poppy Seeds
Poppy Seeds, released in 1971, was the second and final studio album from Vancouver, British Columbia band The Poppy Family. The album has yet to be released on modern formats and remains a rare vinyl....

 and Cannabis
Cannabis
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants that includes three putative species, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis. These three taxa are indigenous to Central Asia, and South Asia. Cannabis has long been used for fibre , for seed and seed oils, for medicinal purposes, and as a...

. The vessels also had impressions created by Cannabis seeds. Cannabis is well known in India as Bhang
Bhang
Bhang is a preparation from the leaves and flowers of the female cannabis plant, smoked or consumed as a beverage in the Indian subcontinent.- India:...

 and sometimes Poppy seeds are used with Bhang to make the ritual drink Bhang Ki Thandai.

In his book Food of the Gods, 'Ethnobotanist Terence McKenna
Terence McKenna
Terence Kemp McKenna was an Irish-American philosopher, psychonaut, researcher, teacher, lecturer and writer on many subjects, such as human consciousness, language, psychedelic drugs, the evolution of civilizations, the origin and end of the universe, alchemy, and extraterrestrial beings.-Early...

 postulates that the most likely candidate for Soma is the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis
Psilocybe cubensis
Psilocybe cubensis is a species of psychedelic mushroom whose principal active compounds are psilocybin and psilocin. Commonly called Boomers, Cubes or Gold Caps, it belongs to the Strophariaceae family of fungi and was previously known as Stropharia cubensis.-Taxonomy and naming:The species was...

, a hallucinogenic mushroom that grows in cow dung in certain climates. In India, Wasson identified Psilocybe cubenis as "easily identified and gathered, and are effective.", and went so far as to hypothesize, "the possible role of Stropharia cubensis growing in the dung of cattle in the lives of the lower orders remains to this day wholly unexplored. Is S. cubensis responsible for the elevation of the cow to a sacred status?" McKenna cites both Wasson's and his own unsuccessful attempts using Amanita muscaria to reach a psychedelic state as evidence that it could not have inspired the worship and praise of Soma.

In his 2005 book Amanita Muscaria; Herb of Immortality Donald E. Teeter has expanded upon Wasson's work and extends Soma to include other Indo-European ritual foods and drink. These include: Haoma
Haoma
Haoma is the Avestan language name of a plant and its divinity, both of which play a role in Zoroastrian doctrine and in later Persian culture and mythology. The Middle Persian form of the name is hōm, which continues to be the name in Modern Persian and other living Iranian languages.Sacred haoma...

, Ambrosia
Ambrosia
In ancient Greek mythology, ambrosia is sometimes the food or drink of the Greek gods , often depicted as conferring ageless immortality upon whoever consumes it...

, Nectar the Wine of Dionysus
Dionysus
Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. His name in Linear B tablets shows he was worshipped from c. 1500—1100 BC by Mycenean Greeks: other traces of Dionysian-type cult have been found in ancient Minoan Crete...

, the Christian Holy Host, and communion wine, among others.

Teeter also proposes and experimentally tests a mechanism for the reported uses and ceremonies associated with these rituals, as well as accounting for the mechanism of the Holy grail
Holy Grail
The Holy Grail is a sacred object figuring in literature and certain Christian traditions, most often identified with the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper and said to possess miraculous powers...

 and similar bountiful religious artifacts mentioned in historical references.

Teeter records success with his use of A. muscaria and his experiments to duplicate the described occurrences surrounding the production, use and effects described for Soma and the Grail.

Contemporary Hinduism


In Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 art, the god Soma was depicted as a bull or bird, and sometimes as an embryo, but rarely as an adult human. In Hinduism
Hinduism
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

, the god Soma evolved into a lunar deity
Lunar deity
In mythology, a lunar deity is a god or goddess associated with or symbolizing the moon. These deities can have a variety of functions and traditions depending upon the culture, but they are often related to or an enemy of the solar deity. Even though they may be related, they are distinct from the...

. Full moon is the time to collect and press the divine drink. The moon
Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

 is also the cup from which the gods drink Soma, thus identifying Soma with the moon god Chandra
Chandra
In Hinduism, Chandra is a lunar deity and a Graha. Chandra is also identified with the Vedic Lunar deity Soma . The Soma name refers particularly to the juice of sap in the plants and thus makes the Moon the lord of plants and vegetation. He is described as young, beautiful, fair; two-armed and...

. A waxing moon meant Soma was recreating himself, ready to be drunk again. Alternatively, Soma's twenty-seven wives were the star goddesses, the Nakshatras - daughters of the cosmic progenitor Daksha
Daksha
In Hinduism, Daksha, "the skilled one", is an ancient creator god, one of the Prajapatis, the Rishis and the Adityas. Daksha is said to be the son of Aditi and Brahma...

 - who told their father that he paid too much attention to just one of them, Rohini. Daksha subsequently cursed Soma to wither and die, but the wives intervened and the death became periodic and temporary, and is symbolized by the waxing and waning of the moon. Monday is called Somavāram in Sanskrit
Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 and modern Indian languages, such as Hindi
Hindi
Standard Hindi, or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi, also known as Manak Hindi , High Hindi, Nagari Hindi, and Literary Hindi, is a standardized and sanskritized register of the Hindustani language derived from the Khariboli dialect of Delhi...

, Bengali
Bengali language
Bengali or Bangla is an eastern Indo-Aryan language. It is native to the region of eastern South Asia known as Bengal, which comprises present day Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal, and parts of the Indian states of Tripura and Assam. It is written with the Bengali script...

, Kannada
Kannada language
Kannada or , is a language spoken in India predominantly in the state of Karnataka. Kannada, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and number roughly 50 million, is one of the 30 most spoken languages in the world...

 Marathi
Marathi language
Marathi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by the Marathi people of western and central India. It is the official language of the state of Maharashtra. There are over 68 million fluent speakers worldwide. Marathi has the fourth largest number of native speakers in India and is the fifteenth most...

 and Telugu
Telugu language
Telugu is a Central Dravidian language primarily spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India, where it is an official language. It is also spoken in the neighbouring states of Chattisgarh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa and Tamil Nadu...

, and alludes to the importance of this god in Hindu spirituality.

The Sushruta Samhita
Sushruta Samhita
The Sushruta Samhita is a Sanskrit text, attributed to one Sushruta, foundational to Ayurvedic medicine , with innovative chapters on surgery....

 localizes the best Soma in the upper Indus
Indus River
The Indus River is a major river which flows through Pakistan. It also has courses through China and India.Originating in the Tibetan plateau of western China in the vicinity of Lake Mansarovar in Tibet Autonomous Region, the river runs a course through the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir and...

 and Kashmir
Kashmir
Kashmir is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term Kashmir geographically denoted only the valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range...

 region.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi , born Mahesh Prasad Varma , developed the Transcendental Meditation technique and was the leader and guru of the TM movement, characterised as a new religious movement and also as non-religious...

's Transcendental Meditation-Sidhi Program involves a notion of "Soma", allegedly based on the Rigveda.

Western reception


In Western artistic and cultural depictions, Soma often refers to some form of intoxicating drug.

Literature and music


In the 19th century, John Greenleaf Whittier
John Greenleaf Whittier
John Greenleaf Whittier was an influential American Quaker poet and ardent advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States. He is usually listed as one of the Fireside Poets...

 wrote a poem called The Brewing of Soma. The last part speaks of how Christians should draw near to God without such things as soma. This part of the poem has been made into a hymn
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
"Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" is a hymn with words taken from a longer poem, The Brewing of Soma by American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. The adaptation was made by Garrett Horder in his 1884 Congregational Hymns....

.

In the books Junkie
Junkie (novel)
Junkie is a 1953 semi-autobiographical novel by William S. Burroughs. It was his first published novel and has come to be considered a seminal text on the lifestyle of heroin addicts in the early 1950s. Burroughs' working title was Junk.-Inspiration:The novel was considered unpublishable more than...

and Naked Lunch, author William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs
William Seward Burroughs II was an American novelist, poet, essayist and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th...

 refers to soma as a non-addictive, high-quality form of opium said to exist in ancient India.

In Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman
Neil Richard Gaiman born 10 November 1960)is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre and films. His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book...

's novel American Gods
American Gods
American Gods is a Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel by Neil Gaiman. The novel is a blend of Americana, fantasy, and various strands of ancient and modern mythology, all centering on a mysterious and taciturn protagonist, Shadow. It is Gaiman's fourth prose novel, being preceded by Good Omens ,...

, soma is referred to be "concentrated prayer", a drink enjoyed by the gods (who feed on people's worship), even non-Hindu ones such as Odin
Odin
Odin is a major god in Norse mythology and the ruler of Asgard. Homologous with the Anglo-Saxon "Wōden" and the Old High German "Wotan", the name is descended from Proto-Germanic "*Wodanaz" or "*Wōđanaz"....

.

Soma is also the name given to a "hangover free" hallucinatory drug widely consumed in the Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World
Brave New World
Brave New World is Aldous Huxley's fifth novel, written in 1931 and published in 1932. Set in London of AD 2540 , the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. The future society is an embodiment of the ideals that form the basis of...

.

Pharmaceutical drug


"Soma" is a brand name for the muscle relaxant drug carisoprodol
Carisoprodol
Carisoprodol is a centrally-acting skeletal muscle relaxant. Carisoprodol is slightly soluble in water and freely soluble in alcohol, chloroform and acetone. The drug's solubility is practically independent of pH. Carisoprodol is manufactured and marketed in the United States by Meda Pharmaceuticals...

, manufactured and marketed in the United States by Meda Pharmaceuticals. It is used to relieve discomfort associated with painful musculoskeletal conditions such as backache. Carisoprodol is a 'centrally acting spasmolytic', which means that it works by altering communication between the central nervous system
Central nervous system
The central nervous system is the part of the nervous system that integrates the information that it receives from, and coordinates the activity of, all parts of the bodies of bilaterian animals—that is, all multicellular animals except sponges and radially symmetric animals such as jellyfish...

(brain & spinal cord) and the nerves that control muscles. In contrast to fictional depictions of soma, carisoprodol has significant habit-forming potential and sedative side effects; it is therefore available by prescription only.