[INDOLOGY] Soma and Amanita muscaria

Mark Singleton ms156 at soas.ac.uk
Sat Oct 13 07:53:05 UTC 2018

Posting on behalf of Matthew Clark (S0AS):

In my book, "The Tawny One: Soma, Homa and Ayahuasca" (Muswell Hill 
Press, 2017), I take a fresh look at the soma/haoma issue. Summarized 
below is my argument. All the details, arguments, counter-arguments and 
references are supplied in my book. The points presented below comprise, 
generally, the current scholarly consensus on many of the topics.

1. The soma/homa cult originated in Turkmenistan.

2. Large scale migrations took place in Asia around 1600 BCE. (I suggest 
that these migratons, which coincided with the collapse of all Bronze 
Age civilizations, from Crete to the Indus, were caused by the eruption 
of the Santorini volcano in 1615 BCE.)

3. "Aryans" came to the Punjab from Turkmenistan (not Anatolya, e.g. 
Colin Renfrew). bringing the cults of soma and the sacred fire. These 
are the two central elements of ancient Indo-Iranian religion.

4. Soma rites are the most esteemed of Vedic shrauta rites.

5. There are three theories about soma that still have some scholarly 
support: ephedra, Syrian rue, and fly agaric.

6. Nearly all commentators agree that soma/haoma was a drug.

7. Ephedra is a mild stimulant, but like any stimulant, engenders a 
hangover. It is not visionary or psychedelic. Sustained use of large 
doses of ephedra is debilitating and can lead to tachycardia. But it may 
have been used sometimes as an additive to a "base" concoction (see below).

8. Ritualist appear to be "reborn" after a soma rite and not hungover.

9. The Labha Sukhta and Hom Yasht 9-11 appear, contra Falk et al., to 
indicate visionary or psychedelic experience.

10. Rue, at high doses, is almost psychedelic, but also highly 
destabilizing. It is not a psychedelic drug. It is dream-inducing: 
oneirophrenic. But rue contains MAOIs.

11. Wasson's fly agaric is a massive red herring (or red mushroom!). 
Since Wasson, people have been "finding" these mushrooms in Tibetan 
Buddhism, early Christianity and Greek mystery rites. I don't agree with 
any of these "findings".

Contra fly-agaric:

12. Even drying the mushrooms, thereby converting more of the ibotenic 
acid to muscimol, still does not eliminate toxins sufficiently to 
engender a ritual-friendly trip (blurred vision, stomach cramps, tremors 

13. There is no pee drinking in the Vedas or Avesta.

14. Soma/haoma is the juice of stalks that need vigorous pounding. 
Stipes of mushrooms do not need pounding. In Siberia and Afghanistan the 
mushrooms are consumed whole, dried or peeled. Never are they pounded in 
mortar and pestle (as haoma is pounded in Zoroastrian and Mithraic 
rites, and with large stones in Vedic rites).

15. Fly agaric grows in many places in South Asia and worldwide. It is 
easily available.

16. If we are looking for a psychedelic, it was most probably a 
tryptamine, not a phenethylamine, and certainly not any plant containing 
scopolamine. Unlike the enthusiasm and reverence for the "classic" 
tryptamines (LSD in the 60s and 70s, psilocybin from the mid-70s, and 
ayahuasca, i.e. DMT + MAOIs, from the early 90s), nearly no one 
regularly drinks or eats fly agaric, even though it is easily available 
almost everywhere. Even Siberians often prefer alcohol to the mushrooms. 
Wasson himself tried the mushrooms many times but just felt sick and 
tired. Fly-agaric is, essentially, in my opinion, too toxic to be the 
queen of entheogens.

17. Soma was as purgative (see the Brahmanas). The purgative aspect is 
due to MAOIs, not DMT (see below). It was bitter and tawny coloured. 
During soma rites it is drunk about every three hours. Rites sometimes 
continue for several days. This has parallels with some ayahuasca 
rituals (see below).

18. In both the Vedas and Avesta there are references to "many 
somas/haomas": soma of the valleys, soma of the hills, soma of the 
rivers etc., in the Rigveda. "Many haomas" are mentioned several times 
in the Avesta.

19. Around 60 common plants contain DMT, and around 70 plants contain 
MAOIs. All 4,200 combinations work similarly as ayahuasca analogues.

20. In the Amazon region around 100 plants are used variously as 
additives to the base concoction for making ayahuasca, a mixture of DMT 
(in chacruna) and MAOIs (in the Banisteriopsis caapi vine). Recipes 
vary. It was the same in ancient Asia.

21. Soma/haoma was never one plant, it was many plants. As with curare, 
in South America, early researchers were wrong to think it was just one 
vine. Local shamans add lots of other plants as boosters.

22. Similarly, Ayurvedic formulas and Greek and Roman medicines often 
use complex plant formulas. The synergetic effect of some traditional, 
complex plant medicines is still poorly understood.

23. In the Materia Medica of India around 20 plants are called soma 
(including rue). Several of these plants contain either DMT or MAOIs. 
Virtually no phytochemical work has been done on the potential 
psychoactive properties of many plants called soma.

24. Soma/haoma was ayahuasca analogues. I identify around a dozen plants 
referred to in the Vedas and Avesta, some of which are known to contain 
DMT or MAOIs, which could have been used as soma/haoma concoctions.

25. The rituals of the Santo Daime church exhibit some striking 
parallels with Vedic ritual. This shows that regular, bi-weekly, 
life-long consumption of ayahuasca (or ayahuasca analogues) is quite 
compatible with sustained ritual activity and recitation of hymns/mantras.

26. The kykeon of the Greek mystery rites was also an ayahuasca analogue 

27. Vedic and Zoroastrian soma/haoma rituals developed primarily as 
vehicles for a deep entheogenic trip, within a ritually confined and 
ordered space within which a trip could be safely and comfortably 
managed by trained priests.

My work on this topic is ongoing. I have made a few new discoveries 
since my book was published last year. Four articles that I have 
recently written on soma will be published next year.

Matthew Clark (SOAS).

On 09/10/2018 02:15, Jonathan Edelmann via INDOLOGY wrote:
> Greetings,
> Does anyone know of recent philological and pharmacological studies on 
> the identification of /soma/ in the Ṛgveda with /Amanita muscaria/? 
> I’m aware of older studies by Wasson, Ingalls, Doniger, etc. Any help 
> appreciated.
> Sincerely,
> Jonathan Edelmann
> Jonathan Edelmann • Assistant Professor
> University of Florida • Department of Religion
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