[INDOLOGY] Soma and Amanita muscaria

Mark Singleton ms156 at soas.ac.uk
Sun Oct 14 07:15:29 UTC 2018

Posting again on behalf of Matthew Clarke (awaiting acceptance to 
Indology list):

Dear Johannes, thanks for the question. Please excuse me, but I am in 
India at the moment, travelling light, and have no access to references. 
And I'm working just with my phone, so there will be errors in my text.

Firstly, I don't think Watson is quite right with his thesis or about 
the small number of psychoactive plants used in Asia. He fails to refer 
to publications on the use of psychoactive plants in New Guinea, for 

The living tradition of the use of ayahuasca, epena, yopo etc. in South 
America has, in the last 70 years or so, led ethnobotanists to conduct 
tests on numerous plants, revealing their psychoactive properties. 
Richard Shultes and his students (Wade Davis, Mark Plotkin, Tim 
Ploughman, Glen Shepard, Mike Ballick, et al.) have been giants in this 

As there is no living psychedelic tradition in South Asia (though there 
is a psychedelic haoma cult run by Qalandar Sufis in Iran - see my 
book), virtually no research into psychoactive plants in South Asia has 
been conducted so far.

In my book I have a preliminary "hit list" of a dozen plants. Leonti and 
Casu, in their important paper, provide details of 6 plants containing 
DMT, MAOIs, ephedrine and ibogaine. These plants are included in 
formulas for amrita that are in the Bower Manuscript. The two formulas 
for amrita in this text comprise around 100 plants, many of uncertain 
botanical classification. They observe that most of the plants have 
never been tested for psychoactive properties.

Additionally, I suggest that kusha/darbha grass deserves proper 
phytochemical analysis. Kusha is a relative of Phalaris grass, some 
varieties of which are rich in DMT. Giorgio Samorini has conducted 
extensive tests on Phalaris.

The variety of Arundo donax (Giant Reed) that grows in India has the 
highest DMT content of all varieties tested so far. I suggest that the 
mysterious hadhanaipata of the Avesta may be Arundo donax.

Praised in the highest terms in the AV is the kushta plant. I suggest 
that this may possibly be galangal (fragrant ginger), which is 
exceptionally rich in MAOIs.

The banyan, peepal, Butea frondosa (parna), and ficus glomerata, could, 
I speculate, also have psychoactive properties.

The soma oblation in Vedic rites is uncooked. Some South American groups 
press uncooked vines to extract the juice. I have come across anecdotal 
reports of successful "trips" using cold pressed Arundo donax.

There are unanswered questions in my thesis. Many plants need proper 
testing. But I believe that my ayahuasca analogue thesis gets the 
closest yet to answering the soma riddle.

Best regards, Matthew.

On 13/10/2018 10:18, Johannes Bronkhorst wrote:
> I am sympathetic to the arguments of Matthew Clark (I have not yet 
> seen his book), but wish to raise a question that may or may not be 
> relevant in this discussion:
> It has repeatedly been observed that there is a "striking anomaly" 
> between the much greater number of psychoactive plants known to the 
> original Americans, who had utilised between eighty and a hundred 
> different species, as compared with the much smaller number — no more 
> than eight or ten — used in the Old World (Peter Watson, /The Great 
> Divide/, Phoenix 2012, p. 193 ff., with references to Weston La Barre 
> and others). Clark, too, refers to psychedelic drugs (ayahuasca, 
> Daime, psilocybin) that are mainly known for their indigenous use in 
> the Americas. My question is therefore: What easily available plants 
> might have been used by the consumers of Soma? Is it enough to say 
> that certain plants contain DMT, certain others MAOIs, without 
> specifying how these could be subjected to relatively easy processes 
> that would result in psychedelic substances?
> Are there easy answers to these questions?
> Johannes Bronkhorst
>> On 13 Oct 2018, at 09:53, Mark Singleton via INDOLOGY 
>> <indology at list.indology.info <mailto:indology at list.indology.info>> wrote:
>> 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 etc.).
>> 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 concoction.
>> 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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