[INDOLOGY] Soma and Amanita muscaria

Jan E.M. Houben jemhouben at gmail.com
Wed Oct 10 06:49:37 UTC 2018

High time for an experiment:
Since performances of Agniṣṭomas (simple Soma ritual) are no more *that*
rare in India...
A. let there be, between now and, say, five to ten years from now:
10 classical Agniṣṭomas in which Soma-substitute Pūtīka is pressed;
10 classical Agniṣṭomas in which Ephedra is pressed;
B. Interview the yajamana and soma-drinking priests before and after the
C. Conclude whether what seems to be the main candidate for having been the
"real" Soma, namely Ephedra, -- *in combination with the other
"transformative-hallucinogenic" practices such as fasting, listening to
myths, riddles and endless chants of samaveda etc.* -- provides or
reinforces the expected (not just recreative "hallucinogenic" but rather,
in any case for the yajamana between the diiksaa when he starts to keep his
fists as an embryo and the avabhrtha or concluding bath when he opens his
hands, "transformative") experiences.

In 2001 I studied only one (1) "Aty-Agnistoma" beautifully performed in
Barsi, Maharashtra, in which a local shrub considered to be Pūtīka -- "ran
sher" is the name I remember, a sample was identified as probably
Sarcostemma brevistigma, without known psychotropic effects -- was pressed,
and I filmed a statistically insignificant number of yet in several
respects quite revealing interviews (mostly in sanskrit mixed with marathi)
with the main participants. A tiny amount of my material has been edited
and can be found on the "Vedic ritual" channel at vimeo
https://vimeo.com/channels/vedicritual; more, including also material by
other scholars, will appear after our panel "Visual Asian Studies: Vedic
Ritual in India & Nepal" planned at the upcoming International Congres of
Asian Scholars (ICAS 11), July 16-19, Leiden.

The research could be extended even beyond the two times 10 performances,
although the following would be much more difficult to arrange:
10 *fantasy* Agniṣṭomas in which Amanita muscaria is "pressed": in spite of
Dr Stuhrmann's claim in his abstract which he has nowhere substantiated in
his 2006 (or 1985) article: the mushroom Amanita muscaria does *not* fit
the ritual procedures of drying, transporting, sprinkling and "pressing"
the Soma as demonstrated by Brough 1971 to be read together with Brough
1973; to escape the non-fit of Amanita muscaria, Wasson had to suppose
(1972a: 14) that the pressing of Soma with stones or pestles is
adventitious (!), in spite of abundant references in the RV and in spite of
its structural presence as a crucial ritual episode in the Agniṣṭoma; see
further also Jarrod Whitaker's article and his contribution to this
(On the other hand, some of the truly hallucinogenic candidates proposed by
Schwartz and Flattery *could* be amenable to a "classical" performance, if
ritual agents willing to cooperate can be found...)

In his article, Dr. Stuhrmann fails to refer to major evidence and
discusions that are problematic for his position, for instance discussions
by John Brough and F.B.J. Kuiper.
He enters into a detailed discussion with John Brough on the meagre and
preliminary basis of only the latter's 1971 article "Soma and Amanita
muscaria." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 34.2:
but does not even mention the continuation of the discussion (and Brough's
reply to Wasson's reply) in
Brough, John. 1973. "Problems of the «Soma-mushroom» theory." Indologica
Taurinensia 1: 21-32.

Two other publications that he should have taken into account:
Kuiper, F.B.J. 1970. Review of Wasson 1969. Indo-Iranian-Journal,12.4:
Kuiper, F.B.J. 1984. "Was the Putika a mushroom?." In: Amrtadhara:
Professor R.N. Dandekar Felicitation Volume (ed. by S.D. Joshi): 219-227.
Delhi: Ajanta.

The main error in the argument and valuable contributions to the discussion
by Dr. Stuhrmann and others would seem to be that *all*
poetic-hallucinogenic descriptions of the Soma plant are taken as resulting
*directly and exclusively* from the use of a drug or psychoactive
substance, whereas (1) the ritual in which the Soma-beverage is produced
contains other, significant "transformative-hallucinogenic" practices that
appear as crucial already in the pre-Srauta, Rgvedic ritual; (2) from Saint
Franciscus and Teresia of Avila to William Wordsworth and Apollinaire,
poets write "psychedelic" or "visionary" poetry without being known to have
used strong psychotropic substances.

C.G. Kashikar 1990 study is mentioned and evaluated in my 2003 article: he
naturally made full use of his profound knowledge of the classical Srauta
ritual and parallels in Zoroastrian ritual to conclude that a type of
ephedra is the most likely plant that was used in the Soma ritual.
Together with Asko Parpola, Kashikar wrote in Vol. 2 of Staal's Agni
(Kashikar and Parpola 1983: 248) that for the original Soma "[t]he most
likely candidate seems to be some species of Ephedra."

On Tue, 9 Oct 2018 at 12:46, Joanna Jurewicz via INDOLOGY <
indology at list.indology.info> wrote:

> https://crossasia-journals.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/index.php/ejvs/article/view/2150
> Best,
> Joanna
> ---
> Prof. dr hab. Joanna Jurewicz
> Katedra Azji Południowej /Chair of South Asia
> Wydział Orientalistyczny / Faculty of Oriental Studies
> Uniwersytet Warszawski /University of Warsaw
> ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28
> 00-927 Warszawa
> https://uw.academia.edu/JoannaJurewicz
> wt., 9 paź 2018 o 05:11 Allen Thrasher via INDOLOGY <
> indology at list.indology.info> napisał(a):
>> Do any of the authors mentioned discuss the testimony of the mycological
>> literature as to where Amanita muscaria is found and relate it to where the
>> Rgveda is thought to have been composed?
>> Allen
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*Jan E.M. Houben*

Directeur d'Études, Professor of South Asian History and Philology

*Sources et histoire de la tradition sanskrite*

École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE, PSL - Université Paris)

*Sciences historiques et philologiques *

54, rue Saint-Jacques, CS 20525 – 75005 Paris

*johannes.houben at ephe.sorbonne.fr <johannes.houben at ephe.sorbonne.fr>*

*johannes.houben at ephe.psl.eu <johannes.houben at ephe.psl.eu>*


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