[INDOLOGY] Soma and Amanita muscaria

Whitaker, Jarrod L. whitakjl at wfu.edu
Tue Oct 9 16:13:47 UTC 2018

I would recommend the following sources on Soma's identity (taken from 
my article “Rig Veda.” Oxford Bibliographies — Hinduism: 
http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/obo/page/hinduism. August 30, 2016):

Falk, Harry. “Soma I and II.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and 
African Studies, University of London 52.1 (1989): 77–90.
Falk pays close attention to the descriptions of sóma in the Rgveda and 
Avesta, and argues strongly for a type of ephedra for the identity and 
stimulant effects of the plant.
Flattery, David S., and Martin Schwartz. Haoma and Harmaline. Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1989.
Argues for the identity of the sóma and Avestan haoma as wild rue 
(Peganum harmala).
Houben, Jan E. M. “The Soma-Haoma Problem: Introductory Overview and 
Observations on the discussion.” Edited by Jan E. M Houben. Electronic 
Journal of Vedic Studies 9.1 (2003).
In the most comprehensive study of its kind, Houben provides a detailed 
summary of past theories on the identity of the sóma and its Avestan 
counterpart haoma and concludes that a type of ephedra is the best 
candidate for the plant.
Nicholson, Philip T. “The Soma Code, Parts I–III.” Electronic Journal of 
Vedic Studies 8.3 (2002): 1–64.
Nicholson is concerned with the imagery of light and ecstatic visions in 
relation to drinking the substance.
Nyberg, Harri. “The Problem of the Aryans and the Soma: The Botanical 
Evidence.” In The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material 
Culture and Ethnicity. Edited by George Erdosy, 382–406. Berlin: Walter 
de Gruyter, 1995.
Nyberg examines the botanical evidence for Central Asia, the Hindukush 
region, and northwest Pakistan/India, and concludes that ephedra-based 
plants are the best candidates for sóma.
Staal, Frits. “How a Psychoactive Substance Becomes a Ritual: The Case 
of Soma.” Social Research: Altered States of Consciousness 68.3 (2001): 
Staal argues for a hallucinogenic/psychedelic effect for sóma since it 
plays a substantial role in generating visions for poets in the Rgveda.
Stuhrman, Rainer. “Rgvedische Lichtaufnahmen: Soma botanisch, 
pharmakolisch, in den Augen der Kavis.” Electronic Journal of Vedic 
Studies 13.1 (2006): 1–93.
Given the prevalence of light imagery in the text, Stuhrman argues for a 
hallucinogenic effect of sóma.
Thompson, George. “Soma and Ecstasy in the Rgveda.” Edited by Jan E. M. 
Houben. Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 9.1 (2003).
Thompson argues for a hallucinogenic/psychedelic effect for sóma, 
particularly given its role in visions and out-of-body experiences, 
which may be attested in several Rgvedic hymns.
Wasson, R. Gordon. Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. New York: 
Harcourt, Brace and World, 1968.
Perhaps the most famous view on the identity of the plant, Wasson argues 
that sóma was the hallucinogenic fly agaric mushroom Amanita muscaria. 
Wasson’s conclusion, while still perpetuated by some academics and the 
wider media, is no longer thought to be credible by the vast majority of 
Vedic scholars.



Jarrod Whitaker, Ph.D.
Associate Professor,
Graduate Program Director,
Department for the Study of Religions.

Wake Forest University
P.O. Box 7212
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
whitakjl at wfu.edu
p 336.758.4162

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