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Vol. 9 (2003)  Issue 1a (May 4)            (©) ISSN 1084-7561

Guest editor :   Jan E.M.  Houben, Leiden University






1. The Soma-Haoma problem: Introductory overview and observations on the
discussion (J.E.M. Houben)

2. Report of the Workshop (J.E.M. Houben)

3. Report concerning the contents of a ceramic vessel found in the "white
room" of the Gonur Temenos, Merv Oasis, Turkmenistan (C.C. Bakels)

4. Margiana and Soma-Haoma (Victor I. Sarianidi)

5. Soma and Ecstasy in the Rgveda (George Thompson)

6. Contributors to this issue, Part I



This volume of EJVS is edited by our guest editor, Jan Houben. He has
organized the Leiden conference whose (partial) outcome are the papers
presented here. Incidentally, this volume follows up, in certain respects,
the discussion, begun in Vol. 8-3 by  Philip T. Nicholson, about specially
induced states of mind, as seen in Vedic texts. A rep[ort on te recent
Somayaaga  in Keral will follow soon.

The transcription in this issue follows the Kyoto-Harvard System with
minor, self-evident  modifications (especially in the  initial characters
of proper names,  such as  .R = capital vowel  R),  and some special
characters for Avestan: E = e,  E: = long e,  /e = schwa,  T = theta, D =
delta, G = gamma,  :n  = ng,  ^s = sh,  :x = xv, etc.   Accents are
represented  as follows:  udATTa  by  /   and Svarita  by  \ .

We sincerely thank Jan Houben for all work undertaken to bring out this
special issue.





Note: The Soma-Haoma  issue of the EJVS, of which this is the first part,
presents the direct and indirect outcome of a workshop on the Soma-Haoma
problem organized by the Research school CNWS, Leiden University, 3-4 July



The Soma-Haoma problem:
Introductory overview and observations on the discussion[1]
Jan E.M. Houben

Je suis ivre d'avoir bu tout l'univers ...
Écoutez mes chants d'universelle ivrognerie.
Apollinaire, 1913

It is no sign of scientific honesty to attempt
to claim for what is in reality a branch of
historical research, a character of
mathematical certainty.
... it is only the rawest recruit
who expects mathematical precision where,
from the nature of the case, we must
be satisfied with approximative aimings.
F. Max Mueller, 1888, p. xiv.

1. Introduction
Practically since the beginning of Indology and Iranology, scholars have
been trying to identify the plant that plays a central role in Vedic and
Avestan hymns and that is called Soma in the Veda and Haoma in the Avesta.
What is the plant of which the Vedic poet says (.RV 8.48.3)[2]:
*/apAma s/omam am/rtA abhUm/a-aganma jy/otir /avidAma dev/An / k/iM nUn/am
asm/An k.rNavad /arAtiH k/im u dhUrt/ir am.rta m/artyasya //*
"We just drank the Soma, we have become immortal, we have come to the
light, we have found the gods. What can enmity do to us now, and what the
mischief of a mortal, o immortal one?"
And which plant is addressed by Zarathustra (Y 9.19-20) when he asks divine
blessings such as "long life of vitality" (*dar/eGO.jItIm
u^stAnahe*)[3][4], "the best world of the pious, shining and entirely
glorious" (*vahi^st/em ahUm a:Saon/am raoca:nh/em vIspO.:xATr/em*), and
requests to become "the vanquisher of hostility, the conqueror of the lie"
(*-tbaE:SO tauruu:A druj/em vanO*)?

2.1. Early ideas and guesses on Soma and Haoma
Already Abraham Rogerius, the 17th century missionary from Holland, was
familiar with the word *soma*, as he writes in his Open Deure tot het
Verborgen Heydendom (1651) that it means "moon" in the language which he
calls "Samscortam" [5]. But it seems that it was only in the second half of
the 18th century that Europeans started to gather more detailed
informations about Vedic rituals, including the use of Soma (in the meaning
of the plant and the inebriating drink created from it). In an abridged
text of the Jesuit Father Coeurdoux which remained unpublished but which
was apparently the unacknowledged basis of J.A. Dubois' well-known work on
the customs, institutions and ceremonies of the peoples of India (Abbé
1825), we read that Soma is the name of a certain liqueur of which the
sacrificer and the Brahmins have to drink at the occasion of a sacrifice
("Soma est le nom d'une certaine liqueur dont lui [= celui qui préside à la
cérémonie, J.H.] et les autres Brahmes doivent boire en cette occasion",
Murr 1987: 126).

>From Anquetil-Duperron (1771) [6] and Charles Wilkins (1785) [7] onward,
the identity of the Avestan Haoma and of the Vedic Soma started to receive
scholarly and scientific attention. In 1842, John Stevenson wrote in the
preface to his translation of the SAmaveda that in the preparation of a
Soma ritual (somayAga) one should collect the "moon-plant". He identifies
(p. IV) the plant as Sarcostemma viminalis. He moreover notes (p. X) that
"[s]ince the English occupation of the Marátha country" the SomayAga was
performed three times (viz., in Nasik, Pune and Sattara). In 1844, Eugène
Burnouf observed in a study (p. 468) that the situation of the Avestan
Haoma, the god whose name signifies both a plant and the juice pressed from
it, is exactly parallel with the Soma of Vedic sacrifice. Windischmann
(1846) discussed ritual and linguistic parallels between the Soma- and
Haoma-cult in more detail. He reports (1846: 129) that Soma is known to be
Sarcostemma viminalis, or Asclepias acida (the latter nowadays also known
as Sarcostemma acidum Voigt), to which he attributes a
narcotic-intoxicating ("narkotisch-berauschende") effect.

2.2. Soma-Haoma and the development of modern botany
The botanical identity of Soma and Haoma became problematized in the second
half of the nineteenth century in a time when botany was coping with the
challenges of various exotic, newly encountered floras. The use of the
plant Sarcostemma brevistigma in recent Vedic sacrifices was acknowledged,
but was this identical with the Soma which had inspired the ancient authors
of the Vedic hymns? Max Mueller expressed his doubts in an article
published in 1855, in which he referred to a verse about Soma that appeared
in a ritualistic commentary (dhUrtasvAmin's commentary on the Apastamba
/SrautasUtra) and that was itself allegedly quoted from an Ayurvedic
source. Adalbert Kuhn 1859, being primarily interested in Indo-European
mythological parallels, accepts Windischmann's conclusions that the
Soma-Haoma was already current among the proto-Indo-Iranians before they
split into a Vedic and Iranian group. He leaves open the possibility that
only the mythology and outward appearance of the Soma and Haoma are similar
while the plants may be different. In 1881 Roth discussed in an article,
"Ueber den Soma", the nature of the plant that was used in modern times,
the plant of olden times, the development in which the plant became rare
and inaccessible to the Vedic people, and the admission and prescription of
surrogates in later Vedic texts. He thinks it is likely that the ancient
Soma was a Sarcostemma or a plant belonging, like the Sarcostemma, to the
family of Asclepiadeae, but not the same kind as the one used in current
sacrifices. Roth's article was the starting signal of a discussion by
correspondence in an English weekly review of literature, art and science,
The Academy of 1884-1885; apart from Roth and Mueller botanists such as
J.G. Baker and W.T. Thiselton-Dyer participated. Julius Eggeling (1885:
xxiv ff) gave a brief report of this discussion, which later on appeared
again in Max Mueller's Biographies of Words and the Home of the Aryans
(1888: 222-242). From the title which Mueller gives to the whole
discussion, "The original home of the Soma", it is clear which aspect of
the problem interests him most: the possible indication that the plant's
identity might give about "the original home of the Aryans". Eggeling
notices that an official inquiry is undertaken by Dr. Aitchison, "botanist
to the Afghan Boundary Commission" (Eggeling 1885: xxiv). A few decades
later, Hillebrandt (1927: 194ff) gives a more detailed report of the same
discussion and adds references to a few later contributions to the
Soma-Haoma problem. As in the case of Eggeling, Hillebrandt cannot reach a
final conclusion regarding the identity of the plant Soma and Haoma in the
ancient period. Suggestions noted by Hillebrandt vary from wine (Watt and
Aitchison) and beer (Rajendra Lal Mitra) to Cannabis (B.L. Mukherjee).[8]
In a footnote, Hillebrandt writes about a "Reisebrief aus Persien" by
Bornmueller according to whom the "Soma-twig (also called Homa and Huma)"
in the hand of a Parsi priest in Yesd could be immediately recognized as
Ephedra. A few years earlier, Jivanji Jamshedji Modi, in his work on the
"religious ceremonies and customs of the Parsees" (1922: 303, footnote 1),
reported that "a few twigs of the Haoma plant used by the Indian Parsis in
their ritual" were sent to Dr. Aitchison (spelled by Modi as Aitchinson)
and identified by him as "twigs of the species Ephedra (Nat. order
Gnetaceae)." Aitchison publishes his botanical descriptions of plants
encountered at his trip through the "Afghan boundary" area in 1888. In the
valley of the Hari-rud river he notices (1888: 111-112) the presence of
several varieties of Ephedra, including one which he and a colleague are
the first to determine, as well as the Ephedra pachyclada, of which he
reports as "native names" Hum, Huma and Yehma.[9] Without committing
himself to a candidate for the "real Soma plant", Oldenberg (1894: 177 and
366ff) argued that the Vedic Soma plant was a replacement of an earlier,
Indo-European substance inebriating men and gods: mead, an alcoholic drink
derived from honey.

2.3. Soma-Haoma, the biochemistry of plants, and human physiology
At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century,
another strand starts to be woven in the Soma-Haoma discussion. An active
substance of the Ephedra plant, the alkaloid ephedrine, was found in the
chinese herb Ma Huang (Ephedra vulg.) in 1885 by Yamanashi. In 1887 and
1892, it was isolated from the plant by Nagai, who gave it the name
ephedrine.[10] In World War I, ephedrin and a number of other alkaloids
(quinine, strychnine, yohimbine and harmaline), were tested on a group of
soldiers; it was found that ephedrine worked most strongly on muscle
strength as well as on the will to overcome fatigue.[11] In his 1938
Lehrbuch der biologischen Heilmittel (Textbook of biological remedies),
Gerhard Madaus (1938: 1259-1266) refers to a large number of studies on the
effects, toxicity etc. of ephedrine appearing in German and American
scientific journals, and notes their employment in the treatment of asthma
and low bloodpressure. In the period between the two world wars, chemical
substances (amphetamines) were explored which were close to ephedrine both
in chemical structure and in physiological effects (Alles 1933, Fawcett and
Busch 1998: 504). In World War II it were the amphetamines that were widely
used on both sides.

2.4. A growing public for knowledge and experience of
psychoactive substances
A book that we may now call a textbook of psychoactive substances was
published in 1924, with an enlarged edition in 1927: Louis Lewin's
Phantastica: Die betäubenden und erregenden Genussmittel für Ärzte and
Nichtärzte (Phantastica: narcotics and stimulants, for medical doctors and
non-doctors). Having researched several of the plants (the mexican
"mescal-button" cactus) and substances (e.g. cocaine) himself in the
preceding decades, he gives detailed discussions of the uses and abuses of
a wide range of narcotics, stimulants and popular remedies that were either
available in Europe from all parts of the world or that had been studied
abroad by ethnographers. He is aware (1927: 216) of the Soma-discussion,
and of the main proposals, Periploca aphylla, Sarcostemma brevistigma and
Ephedra vulgaris, which, however, he does not see as capable of "producing
the effects described with regard to the Soma" ("Keine von diesen Pflanzen
kann Wirkingen veranlassen, wie sie von dem Soma geschildert werden"). He
rather thinks that it may have been a "strong alcoholic drink created by
fermentation from a plant."[12] An English translation of Lewin's book was
read by Aldous Huxley in 1931, and it inspired him to write Brave New World
(1932), the satirical fiction of a state where, with an inversion of Marx'
statement, "opium is the religion of the people". The "opium" in Huxley's
novel is a chemical substance which he calls "Soma" and which, dependent on
the dose, can bring someone a happy feeling, ego-transcending ecstasy, or a
deep sleep like a "complete and absolute holiday" [13]. In a 1931 newspaper
article in which he refers to his discovery of that "ponderous book by a
German pharmacologist" (i.e., Lewin's 1927 "encyclopaedia of drugs"),
Huxley says that "probably the ancient Hindus used alcohol to produce
religious ecstasy" (in Huxley 1977: 4), a statement apparently deriving
from Lewin's hasty and unconvincing suggestion for the identification of
Soma with alcohol. The same book also informed him that "the Mexicans
procured the beatific vision by eating a poisonous cactus" and that "a
toadstool filled the Shamans of Siberia with enthusiasm and endowed them
with the gift of tongues." In 1958: 99, however, Huxley mentions another
plant as the possibly real Vedic Soma: "The original Soma, from which I
took the name of this hypothetical drug, was an unknown plant (possibly
Asclepias acida) used by the ancient Aryan invaders of India in one of the
most solemn of their religious rites." His novel Island of 1963 gives a
description of a more positive Utopian world in the form of a community
that uses a drug not called Soma but "Moksha", and made out of
"toadstools". It provides "the full-blown mystical experience."[14]

2.5. The main Soma-Haoma candidates until the 1960'ies
In the meantime, indologists, ethnologists, botanists and pharmacologists
had continued discussing and researching various candidates for the "real
Soma-Haoma". The main plants discussed are Ephedra, Sarcostemma
brevistigma, and Rhubarb. In the latter theory, defended e.g. by Stein
1931, the reddish juice of the plant is thought to be the basis of an
alcoholic drink. In the introduction to his translation of the ninth
maNDala of the .Rgveda (Geldner 1951, vol. III), K.F. Geldner says that the
Soma-plant "can only have been a kind of Ephedra." Geldner (1853-1929)
worked on the translation of the ninth and tenth maNDalas in the last years
of his life. He justified his view by noting that a sample (apparently of a
plant used in the Haoma-ceremony) given to him in Bombay by Parsi priests
was identified as Ephedra by the renowned botanist O. Stapf; he also
referred to a publication of Aitchison (Notes on Products of Western
Afghanistan and North Eastern Persia, not available to me) and to Modi
1922: 303. In earlier publications such as the one on the Zoroastrian
religion (1926) and his textbook on Vedism and Brahmanism (1928), Geldner
had remained quite silent on the botanical identity of the Haoma-Soma, he
only presented the two as identical.  Geldner's German .Rgveda translation
became widely available only several years after World War II, but then it
became the scholarly standard translation for the next so many decades.

3.1. The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria): a new candidate
presented, criticized and defended.
An altogether new theory was launched by R. Gordon Wasson in a book that
appeared in 1969.[15] Wasson (1898-1986) was an English banker as well as
ethnobotanist and mycologist.[16] Together with his wife, he earlier
published a book on "mushrooms in Russian history" in 1957. Wasson's 1969
book on a "mushroom of immortality" as the original Soma presents an
impressive array of circumstantial evidence in the form of ethnographic and
botanic data on the use of the Amanita muscaria ("fly-agaric") by isolated
tribes in the far north-west of Siberia. In other words, what was literary
fiction in Huxley's novel Island appears now as a scholarly hypothesis.[17]
However, what should count as substantial evidence in Wasson's hypothesis
remains utterly unconvincing. Wasson wants to take only the .Rgvedic hymns
into account, from which he selects statements that would describe the
Soma-plant. The hymns, however, are employed in the context of elaborate
rituals and are generally directed to certain gods, e.g. Indra, Agni, Soma.
The praises of the god contain references to mythological elements
regarding his powers, feats and origination. To the extent that hymns to
Soma contain references to concrete events - that is, to the extent they do
not refer to cosmological themes or to microcosmic implications - these
usually concern the ritual sphere. Wasson takes these references as
detailed descriptions of the plant in its natural habitat, which is
demonstrably incorrect. By isolating short phrases eclectically, Wasson
does indeed succeed in collecting a number of statements which can be
applied to the fly-agaric and its life cycle in nature. While the verses
are apparently formulated so as to be suggestive of additional meanings (to
allow interpretations concerning man and the cosmos), the immediate context
of the isolated phrases usually make a link with the growing mushroom far
fetched while the suitablility for the ritual context remains. Even if
occasionally mention is made of the mountains as the place where the Soma
grows, the hymns of the ninth book of the .Rgveda, which forms the main
source of evidence for Wasson, deal with the Soma in the process of
purification (p/avamAna). As Brough observed in 1973: 22: "the Vedic
priests were concentrating on the ritual situation, and on the plant,
presumably in a dried state, at the time of the ritual pressing. It is thus
improbable that the Vedic 'epithets and tropes' which Wasson believed
reflected aspects of the striking beauty of the living plant were inspired
in this way." [18] A number of reviews of Wasson's book appeared from the
hand of anthropologists, botanists, writers, indologists, and historians of
religion.[19] Those which were too hesitant in accepting Wasson's central
thesis, Kuiper and Brough, received a rejoinder (Wasson 1970 and 1972a),
where, however, we find repetitions of his earlier statements and more of
the same but no indication that the problems pointed out by the reviewers
were understood, let alone that these problems are convincingly addressed

Separate mention is to be made of Part Two of Wasson's book (pp. 93-147),
which is written by indologist Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty and is entitled
"The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant". This part is valuable for its
discussion of researches on Soma and Haoma by Western scholars since the
end of the eighteenth century to the time of her writing. The section on
"the BrAhmaNas and the /Srauta-sUtras" (pp. 95-98), concerning a crucial
episode in Soma's "post-vedic history" for which extensive material is
available, is impressionistic and eclectic and hence defective [21], but in
spite of this both Doniger O'Flaherty and Wasson refer to it in their
attempt to prove the absence of direct knowledge of Soma in this period.

Apart from its importance for the study of the use of the fly-agaric by
tribes in distant North-East Siberia,[22] Wasson's book forms an undeniable
landmark in the Soma-Haoma discussion. However, while initially he did
receive more positive reactions to his central thesis from some indological
reviewers (Bareau, Ingalls and Kramrisch), it hardly ever received
full-fledged support from later indologists writing on the subject. One
important point is however widely accepted: the Soma might very well have
been a hallucinogen. The line of reasoning underlying the argument
presented in Wasson 1969 was: in the light of the utterances of the Vedic
authors, Soma cannot have been alcoholic, it must have been a
hallucinogen.[23] In his review of Wasson 1969, Brough (1971: 360f) made an
important observation. Quoting from Wasson's evidence on the consumption of
fly-agaric among tribes in North-East Siberia, Brough points out that there
are repeated references to coma induced by the fly-agaric. Those who
consume the mushroom attain "an ecstatic stupor" or are transported into "a
state of unconsciousness". Being "in a stupor from three sun-dried agarics"
the hero of one of Wasson's sources "is unable to respond to the call to
arms. But time passes and the urgency grows, and when the messengers press
their appeal to throw off his stupor he finally calls for his arms." Brough
rightly observes: "Here, it would seem, is a plant whose effects are
totally unsuitable to stimulate Indra and human warriors for battle." In
his answer to the problem indicated by Brough, Wasson sneers at Brough's
self-admitted lack of specialist qualifications in chemistry and
pharmacology and retorts (1972a: 15): "Wine as one of the Elements in the
Mass is analogous. From earliest times (indeed since Noah's days!) wine has
been known to cause nausea, vomiting, and coma; yet its sacramental rôle
stands unchallenged."

The situation is, however, not the same. The "ecstatic stupor" and "state
of unconsciousness" appear in Wasson's anecdotes of the use of fly-agaric
as quite regular effects appearing quite soon after the consumption of
doses that according to the descriptions are the normal ones (cf. also
Nyberg 1995: 391). In the case of wine normal consumption seems rather
accompanied by a whole range of effects from exhileration to drowsiness,
while "nausea, vomiting, and coma" befalls only those who consume it in
great excess (or who drink bad wine). It is also striking that
hallucinations and visions are reported in a considerable number of
Wasson's Amonita muscaria anecdotes; they apparently occur quite soon after
the consumption of the active substance of the mushrooms, and seem to be
part of the experience actually sought by the consumer. Brough (1971: 361)
draws attention to Ephedra, and to ephedrine isolated from Ephedra sinica
(Ma Huang). Ephedrine, according to Brough, "is a powerful stimulant, and
would thus be a more plausible preparation for warriors about to go into
battle than the fly-agaric, which is a depressant."

In Wasson's presentation the choice was between alcohol and a hallucinogen.
In Brough's formulation we have to choose between a hallucinogen and a
stimulant, whereas an alcoholic drink is for him not a suitable candidate
for the substance causing the Vedic people to attain exhileration (m/ada).
These seem to be the major options taken into consideration in the
post-Wasson era of the Soma-Haoma discussion. In 1975 Frits Staal appended
a discussion of the Soma-issue to his book on the exploration of mysticism.
Staal is quite impressed by Wasson's argument (1975: 204: "his
identification stands in splendid isolation as the only, and therefore the
best, theory"). But he demonstrates to be not entirely unaware of its
methodological shortcomings (1975: 202): "The only weakness that seems to
be apparent for Wasson's theory is a certain unfalsifiability. A good
theory should be liable to falsification. Theories which are true come what
may and which can never be refuted by facts are uninformative, tautologous,
or empty. In fact, apparent counterexamples to Wasson's theory can always
be interpreted as consistent with the theory. When opponents point out, for
example, that there are descriptions in the Veda which do not fit a
mushroom, Wasson replies that the identity of the Soma was intentionally
hidden by the Brahmans, or that these descriptions fit creepers or other
substitutes." Staal thus saw that Wasson takes the Veda at once as the
document on the basis of which the Soma can be identified as a mushroom,
and as a testimony of concerted attempts of Brahmins to mystify and hide
this identity: a very flexible employment indeed of a source taken as
crucial evidence.[24] Staal here distinguishes between only two options for
Soma, alcohol and a hallucinogen, thus neglecting the relevance of
psychoactive substances which have a primarily stimulant and ecstasy
promoting effect (without excluding the occurrence of hallucinations or
visions). In his book on the Agnicayana ritual (1983, I: 106), he
formulates his position with reference to Wasson's thesis as follows:
"Wasson's thesis implies, but is not implied by, a weaker thesis, namely
that the original Vedic Soma was a hallucinogenic plant [i.e., not
necessarily a mushroom, J.H.]. I regard this as the most important part of
Wasson's hypothesis ... " The restriction of possible psychoactive
candidates to substances known as hallucinogens, however, is unjustified.

A substitute for Soma mentioned in some of the ritual texts is Puut/iika.
The Puut/iika is also one of the additives in the clay of the Pravargya pot
- an object that is central in an esoteric, priestly ritual, the Pravargya
(cf. van Buitenen 1968, Houben 1991 and 2000). In an article published in
1975 (later appearing as the third chapter in Wasson et al. 1986), Stella
Kramrisch sought to prove that this Puut/iika was a mushroom having
psychotropic effects. According to her (1975: 230), "Puutika [sic], the
foremost, and possibly the only direct surrogate for Soma, is a mushroom.
When the fly-agaric no longer was available, another mushroom became its
substitute. ... The identification of Puutika [sic], the Soma surrogate,
supplies strong evidence that Soma indeed was a mushroom." Kramrisch'
identification goes via the mushroom called Putka by the Santals in Eastern
India. As Kuiper (1984) pointed out, the linguistic connection suggested by
Kramrisch does not hold. As pointed out in Houben 1991: 110, the ritual
texts prescribing the Puut/iika as an additive to the clay of the Pravargya
pot present it as an /oSadhi (KaTha-AraNyaka 2,11+) and as something
providing a firm basis from which he can attack the demon V.rtra
(TaittirIya-AraNyaka 2.9-10). Like other additives such as the animal hairs
and the material of an ant-hill, it was not exclusively symbolic as
Kramrisch believes, but had no doubt a pragmatic basis in providing extra
strength to the clay pot which is to withstand extremely hight temperatures
in the ritual of the heated milk offering. There is hence no basis to
regard the PUtIka as a mushroom, which takes away the additional evidence
that Soma were a mushroom.

Rainer Stuhrmann 1985 briefly reviews the Soma-discussion since Wasson
1969. He notes that critics of Wasson are right in maintaining that it is
not possible to classify Soma, but that they went too far in entirely
excluding a mushroom. He points out that even if the colour pictures which
Wasson attaches to phrases from the .Rgveda are seducingly suggestive, the
questionable nature of Wasson's interpretation of the verses must be
apparent to anyone who reads Geldner's or Renou's translation of the hymns
in their entirety. According to him, there are nevertheless three points
that can be considered settled:
(1) From the BrAhmaNas on, the original Soma was replaced by several other
plants, and such substitution is already indicated in the tenth book of the
(2) The original Soma cannot have been alcoholic, because there would not
have been time for the fermentation of the sap after the pressing;
moreover, both the .Rgveda and the Avesta contrast the effects of
Soma-Haoma with the alcoholic s/urA.
(3) The plant grows in the mountains.

Stuhrmann emphasizes that it is important to investigate the type of
intoxication produced by Soma and to conclude on that basis what type of
plant was used as Soma. He observes that several characteristics of the
Soma-hymns, such as their "formless tangle of images and mystic fantasies
[25]", importance of optic qualities in epithets of Soma, can be well
explained by hallucinogenic influence. Hence he concludes that in case Soma
would not be the fly-agaric it must at least be a plant containing

Stuhrmann's argument is carefully phrased, but it is in several respects
imprecise and contains a few crucial nonsequiturs. Stuhrmann states that
from the BrAhmaNas onwards the Soma was replaced by substitutes - a
distorted representation of facts that goes back to Wasson and Doniger
O'Flaherty: as we have seen, it is true that substitutes are mentioned, but
there is also still an awareness of the real Soma and of the fetching of
Soma from near by in case the "top quality" Soma of mountain MUjavat is
stolen. The view that substitution would have started at the time of the
composition of the tenth book of the .Rgveda is also already found with
Wasson, and likewise, Wasson supports his statement with a reference to
.Rgveda 10.85.3
*s/omam manyate papivAn   y/at sampiMSanty /oSadhim  /
s/omaM y/am brahm/ANo vidur   n/a t/asyA/SnAti k/a/S can/a //
"One believes to have drunk the Soma when they press out the herb.
The Soma which the Brahmans know, no-one consumes of that one."

It is difficult to draw from this verse the conclusion that the Soma is not
a herb, as Stuhrmann tries to do (1985: 91 note 3), apart from being
something more abstract in the knowledge of Brahmans. Since the word
/oSadhi 'herb' would otherwise contradict Wasson's mushroom theory, he was
forced to see in the first two pAdas of the verse a reference to a
substitute, and in the last two pAdas a reference to the real Soma held
secret by the Brahmans. This in itself is already a quite contorted
interpretation. In the larger context of the hymn it proves to be
untenable. The first verse of this well-known hymn of the marriage of
sUry/A (fem.) with Soma (masc.) says that Soma is placed in heaven, and
hence makes it immediately clear that verse three presents a contrast
between the pressing of the Soma-plant on the earth and the Soma as moon
which latter cannot be consumed directly. There is no suggestion of a
substitute, only of an additional insight of the Brahmans with regard to a
plant (*/oSadhi*) which can be known and seen by all.

As for the exclusion of alcohol: the contrast with s/urA is indeed there.
Some process of fermentation or alteration of substances in the Soma plant
can nevertheless not be entirely excluded in the period between their
plucking and the employment in the ritual where the Soma-stalks are
sprinkled on a number of consecutive days preceding the pressing. As for
the mountains as the place of the Soma, it is clear that this applies to
top-quality Soma. The Avesta (10.17) speaks of Soma occurring on mountains
and in valleys (where the latter may, indeed, still be on high altitudes).

Next, Stuhrmann wants to infer the type of relevant plant-substance from
the type of intoxication produced by Soma. Stuhrmann refers here to .Rgveda
10.119 which is generally interpreted as the self-praise of Indra who
became drunk from drinking Soma. The speaker in the poem makes statements
such as: after having drunk the Soma, one of my wings is in heaven and the
other is being dragged on the earth. While the whole hymn could be seen as
poetic fiction, one may indeed see here a reference to a hallucination or
distorted perception, and the Soma would have a place in the causal nexus
leading to it. This does not mean that Soma must have been a hallucinogen
in the strict, modern sense of the term, especially because references to
Soma outside this exceptional hymn are not normally indicative of serious
hallucinations on the part of the authors. The latter point was argued by
Falk (1989), who, however, went too far in trying to completely exclude the
possibility that .Rgveda 10.119 points to a hallucinatory experience. Even
if we follow for the moment Stuhrmann in his acceptance of a hallucinogenic
effect of Soma, his conclusion at the end that the Soma plant must have
contained alkaloids is both too wide and too narrow. Even if alkaloids have
often psychoactive properties, instead of being predominantly hallucinogen
they also may have quite different properties such as CNS-stimulant,
sleep-inducing etc. On the other hand, hallucinations may have a basis in
other substances than alkaloids: any substance that can interact with the
biochemistry of the brain may induce distorted perceptions (among modern
products petrol or gasoline would be an example; cf. already Lewin 1927:
268f). In addition, a lack of nutritients through fasting and thirsting may
induce hallucinations as well. The same applies to the deprivation of
sleep. Most importantly, whether a substance or the absence of substances
does indeed produce a hallucination will usually depend to a large extent
on the physiological and psychological condition of the subject, whereas
the nature of the hallucination or vision will depend on his psychology and
cultural background.

That the Soma was not a hallucinogen but a stimulant, probably from a
species of Ephedra, was the view elaborated and defended by Harry Falk in
1987 at the World Sanskrit Conference in Leiden. In his paper (1989) he
places previous theories in three categories: (1) Soma is hallucinogenic;
(2) Soma needs fermentation and is alcoholic; (3) Soma is a stimulant.
Emphasizing the Vedic indications for a stimulant effect of Soma which
contributes to staying awake all night [26], he concludes that Soma-Haoma
must again be identified with Ephedra. To establish his position he not
only points out the properties of Ephedra and places in Vedic literature
indicating wakefulness and aphrodisiac effect in connection with Soma, but
also argues that the .Rgveda contains no references to hallucinations, not
even in .Rgveda 10.119 that is normally taken in that sense. (In the
present issue George Thompson argues, convincingly I think, for a
restoration of the "hallucinatory" character of this hymn.)

3.2 A fresh look at the Iranian evidence and a new hallucinogenic candidate
The same year 1989 saw the publication of the book Haoma and Harmaline by
David Stophlet Flattery and Martin Schwartz. Here the authors base
themselves mainly on Iranian evidence and provide an extensive and careful
argument that the Haoma- and Soma-plant was in fact Harmel, which contains
an alkaloid with hallucinogenic properties, harmaline (as well as harmine).
The authors are aware (1989: 67-68) that for centuries Zoroastrians of
central Iran have been using Ephedra - which they call *hom* - together
with another plant - parts from a twig of the pomegranate tree - in their
Haoma rituals. From the fact that in Nepal Ephedra is called *somalatA*
('Soma creeper') they infer that Ephedra was the plant used as Soma before
it was replaced by Sarcostemma which grows in tropical areas of India and
which was in use by Brahmins encountered by the Europeans in nineteenth
century India (1989: 69). Yet, they think that Ephedra cannot have been the
Haoma-Soma itself. For this, they have one main reason: we do not see that
contemporaneous Zoroastrian priests using Ephedra become intoxicated.
According to Flattery's and Schwartz's judgement, "sauma must have been
commonly known in ancient Iranian society as an intoxicating plant in order
for the credibility of the sauma ceremonies, and the authority of Iranian
priests claimed from them, to have been maintained. Despite being commonly
designated *haoma* (and the like), Ephedra is without suitable psychoactive
potential in fact (and is not regarded in traditional ethnobotany as having
any psychoactive properties at all) and, therefore, it cannot have been
believed to be the means to an experience from which the priests could
claim religious authority or widely believed to be the essential ingredient
of an *intoxicating* extract." They conclude that (1989: 74) "It is
therefore neither likely that Ephedra was a substitute for sauma
[Soma-Haoma] nor that it was sauma itself, yet, according to both Iranian
and Indian traditions, Ephedra was essentially linked with the extract
drunk during the ceremonies. The only way of reconciling this fact with the
considerations of the preceding paragraphs is to view Ephedra as an archaic
additive to the extract. Thus, Ephedra too would have been a soma-/haoma-
'pressed out (plant)', though not the only (or fundamental) one." The
argument is carefully structured. However, it may be observed that their
information regarding the properties of Ephedra and its alkaloids such as
Ephedrine was apparently incomplete or outdated. It is true that Ephedrine
and related alkaloids are best-known for their use in the case of asthma as
well as low blood-pressure (hypotension), but it is since long known that
it is also a general stimulant of the central nervous system. Hence its
psychiatric use, e.g. in manic depressive disorder.[27] What the authors
may not have been aware of in 1989 is that Ephedra would soon be marketed
as the "natural" (hence supposedly safe, and in any case less restricted
and regulated) alternative for the popular designer drug Ecstasy (XTC).[28]
It is not clear on which impressionistic basis they conclude that the
priests are not "intoxicated" nor what would qualify in their eyes as
"intoxication," i.e. the *maDa* of the Avestans and the *mada* of the Vedic

3.3 The evidence from brahmanic texts and ritual
In 1990 the renowned specialist in /Srauta-literature C.G. Kashikar
published his Identification of Soma, in which he argues for Ephedra as the
original plant used in the Vedic and Zoroastrian rituals.[30] The main
importance of this publication lies in the discussion of evidence of Vedic
ritual texts which are chronologically immediately following the .Rgveda
(the latter forming the point of departure for Wasson's identification).
Several Yajurvedic SaMhitAs, BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras not only refer to
the ceremonial purchase of Soma (where the seller is asked whether it comes
from the mUjavat mountain), but also to the contingency that the Soma is
snatched away before the sacrifice starts. In that case new Soma is to be
procured from the nearest spot. Only if Soma cannot be found the texts
prescribe that substitutes are to be resorted to.[31] It may be assumed
that the Soma that is procured from near by is of lower quality than the
stolen Soma from mountain MUjavat, otherwise it would have been employed in
the first place. Several /SrautasUtras prescribe Soma-juice in the daily
offering of the Agnihotra for those sacrificers who desire the lustre of
Brahman. This points on the one hand to authors being settled near the
northern part of the Indian subcontinent where Soma was still within reach;
on the other hand it is clear that Soma is a plant that has a wider habitat
than only a few mountains. The daily Soma of the Brahmins can hardly have
been the precious top-quality Soma from mount MUjavat required in the
AgniSToma. As for the botanical side of the issue, Kashikar relies mainly
on research of Qazilbash and Madhihassan (their publications, mainly
appearing between 1960 and 1986, were unavailable to me at the moment of
concluding this introduction).

In a review of Kashikar 1990, Thomas Oberlies (1995) makes some important
remarks, apart from giving additional bibliographic references. Oberlies
accepts with Kashikar that the BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras are aware of
*some* plant being the real Soma. However, there is insufficient evidence
for a positive identification. Referring to Brough 1971, Kashikar had
rejected Wasson's identification of Soma as the fly-agaric a mushroom. He
then simply takes the three main remaining plants that have been suggested
by scholars as being the Soma, and by exclusion of the first two,
Sarcostemma brevistigma and Periploca aphylla, he arrives at the conclusion
that it must have been Ephedra. Even when the BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras
seem to suggest awareness of *some* plant as the unequivocally real Soma,
Oberlies doubts whether it can be assumed that this was also the plant used
in the .Rgveda. This would only apply if there were an uninterrupted
continuity between .Rgveda and Yajurvedic texts. Oberlies mentions three
problems with the identification of Soma with Ephedra:
(1) The reddish-yellow (rot-gelb) colour is lacking (only the berries of
Ephedra are red but the berries are not mentioned in the texts).
(2) Juice pressed from Soma does not have a milky character, whereas the
.Rgveda speaks of "milking the (Soma-)stalks" and of Soma as the cow's
first milk after calving (pIy/USa 'beestings').
(3) Oberlies' most fundamental problem with the Ephedra-identification is
that Ephedra does not have the required hallucinogenic effect that is
attested in the .Rgvedic hymns.

Oberlies concludes his discussion with the observation that it is the
interpretation of the Soma-intoxication on the part of the Vedic poets in
the context of their referential frame which should receive more interest
and attention, rather than to lay excessive emphasis on the nature of the
substance (Cf. Oberlies 1998: 166). Similarly, Tatjana Elizarenkova (1996)
has emphasized the importance of the style and structure of .Rgvedic texts
behind which there are insufficient traces of the direct impact of a
psychoactive substance to make identification possible. Indeed, the
importance of the cultural "construction" of textual representations of
personal, including mystical, experience should not be underestimated. And
what applies to the study of mystical experience will apply equally to a
large domain of experiences resulting from psychoactive substances. After
earlier generations of authors with what may be called various
"essentialist" and "perennialist" approaches to mystic experience (William
James, Rudolph Otto, Mircea Eliade, Aldous Huxley), a constructivist
paradigm found wide acceptance in academic scholarship in the latter half
of the twentieth century; it has found committed and persistent expression
in a series of collective volumes on mysticism directed by Steven T. Katz
(1978, 1983, 1992, 2000).

In spite of his affinity to a constructivist approach when he argues for
studying the Vedic poet first of all in his religious context, from
Oberlies' third, most fundamental ("wesentlichste") problem, it is clear
that it is his unpronounced presupposition that indications for
hallucinations in the .Rgveda point directly to the use of a substance
having hallucinogenic effects. As we have seen above, convincing
indications for hallucinations, apart from the quite explicit .Rgveda
10.119, are rare, and even if these should not be explained away, they are
to be weighed against other indications which point to an absence of
hallucination, but rather to a powerful stimulant suitable to divine and
human warriors that cannot afford to perceive things that have no basis in
objective reality.

The second point is to be studied against the background of .Rgvedic poetic
usage, where among other things thoughts can be obtained from an udder
(5.44.13), or where an inspired poem can be compared with a dairy cow
(3.57.1), or where there is no problem in speaking of the "udder of the
father" (3.1.9). To satisfy the literalists who insist that, even with the
extensive evidence that "milking" is a central and flexible metaphore for
"deriving something precious from", pIy/USa 'beestings' (formerly also
spelt 'biestings', medical name 'colostrum') must absolutely be taken as
having not only relational but also physical characteristics of milk, it
can be pointed out that the long sessions of beating the Soma-plant with
the stampers or press-stones can be expected to give a pulpy-watery mixture
in a first pressing which may have looked like the creamy fluid with
special nutritious and protective ingredients that a cow produces for a new
born calf. Such pulpy-watery mixture is what I saw come forth from the
pounding of the Soma-substitute called Puutiika (probably Sarcostemma
brevistigma) in Soma sacrifices in Maharashtra and New Delhi. Several ideas
may hence underlie the use of the term pIy/USa 'beestings': the first juice
appearing from the pressing is "beestings" by virtue of its being the first
fluid produced from the stalks; it is "beestings" by virtue of its
pulpy-watery, hence somewhat cream-like, character; it is "beestings" on
account of its nutritious and protective potency. Finally, those invoking
the .Rgvedic references to beestings as an argument against Ephedra seem to
have overlooked that the cow's first milk after calving is usually not
white but may have all kinds of colours, from yellowish to greenish and
purple, which does not constitute a contra-indication for its quality. This
applies at least to the cows common in Europe, as I understood from a
well-informed relative.[32] The metaphoric flexibility of terms in the
sphere of "milking" in any case prevents pIy/USa from being an argument
against the Ephedra candidate. As for the problem of the reddish-yellow
colour attributed to Soma: in Oberlies' brief statement, where he mixes up
"reddish-yellow (rot-gelb)" and "red (rot)" or at least opaquely shifts
from the one to the other, there is nothing that would invalidate Brough's
1971 extensive discussion of the colour-term in his criticism of Wasson.

A particularly problematic part in Oberlies' argument lies in his attempt
to disconnect the evidence of BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras from that of the
.Rgveda. Oberlies observes (1995: 236) that Kashikar presupposes that the
plant used as Soma according to the BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras is
identical with that of the .Rgveda. However, according to Oberlies this
would apply only if there were an uninterrupted continuity from the .Rgveda
to the Yajurveda with regard to beliefs, rituals and cults. Since this
cannot be accepted (Oberlies asks rhetorically: who could seriously believe
this, with exclamation mark), statements in the BrAhmaNas and /SrautasUtras
would prove little for the .Rgveda (with exclamation mark). A few
paragraphs further (1995: 237), he acknowledges that Kashikar's conclusions
provide new insights for the BrAhmaNas. Here, the Soma may have been
Ephedra. But, he adds, this was in all probability not the "original" (with
exclamation mark).

In spite of all the exclamation marks, Oberlies' line of reasoning is
neither self-evident nor convincing. At first, he makes the *general
statement* that we cannot assume there was an uninterrupted continuity from
the .Rgveda to the Yajurveda with regard to beliefs, rituals and cults. On
the next page, it is suddenly *most probable* that there is no continuity
*in the specific case* of the knowledge of the Soma-plant. This is like
observing first that one cannot be sure that traffic rules in Italy are the
same as in France, and next that it is most probable that when the French
drive on the right side of the road the Italians must drive left. It is
well known that there are indeed important distinctions between the .Rgveda
and the Yajurveda and subsequent sources, including with regard to the
ritual. However, these distinctions appear only against the background of a
massive flood of elementary and structural continuities, which in many
cases extend even to proto-Indo-Iranian times. It is also well-known that
especially ritual has a tendency to be conservative, even when
interpretations and belief systems change. In the beginning days of
Indology, scholars like Roth have emphasized the independence of the
.Rgveda from the later ritual texts. Vedic hymns would be expressions of
"natural" lyrics which had little to do with the detailed liturgical
practice as found in later texts. Close studies of scholars have in the
meantime shown that there are numerous continuities and that the large
majority of .Rgvedic hymns suit ritual contexts which are still part of the
"classical" ritual system as found in the Yajurvedic texts (cf. Gonda 1975:
83ff and 1978). In addition, in several specific cases such as the animal
sacrifice (Bosch 1985) and the Pravargya (Houben 2000), the basic
continuities and structural changes have been demonstrated in detail. In
the case of the Soma-ritual, pervading not only the ninth maNDala but the
entire .Rgveda, a comprehensive study and reconstruction of its .Rgvedic
form is still a desideratum even if we have an important preliminary study
in the form of Bergaigne's "Recherches sur l'histoire de la liturgie
védique" (1889; cf. also Renou 1962 and Witzel 1997: 288ff). In the light
of this background of continuities, Oberlies' gratuitous assumption that
there must be discontinuity in the case of the plant that is central in the
most dominant .Rgvedic Soma ritual is unsound. In the light of what we know
of ritual in general and Vedic ritual and culture and of ritual in
particular a much more reasonable starting point will be to assume that
there is continuity unless there is an indication to the contrary. Such
indications pointing to a rupture in the knowledge of a specific
Soma-plant, as briefly indicated in Kashikar 1990, are not found in
classical Yajurvedic texts which continue to refer back the practicing
Brahman to an identifiable real Soma-plant even if he is occasionally
allowed to sacrifice with a substitute.

A position somewhat parallel to the view of Oberlies was adopted by Frits
Staal, who recently devoted an article to "the case of Soma" (Staal
2001).[33] In his usual challenging and stimulating style, Staal argues
that the elaborate Soma ritual as known from classical sources replaces an
earlier phase where the "real" Soma was known, and where ritualization was
much less than later on. Hence the title of the article: How a psychoactive
substance becomes a ritual. Again, in my view without sufficient basis two
specific changes are assumed in the transition from .Rgvedic ritual to the
ritual of the /SrautasUtras: a loss in the knowledge of the original Soma
and an increase in ritualization. He summarizes his main hypothesis in the
form of a mathematical formula:

	ritualization * psychoactivity = S

where S is a constant. Unfortunately, no data are offered to substantiate
this formula. The fact that the /SrautasUtras are later than the .Rgveda
neither means that ritual was absent in .Rgvedic times nor that it was
"less" (in whichever way one may want to measure it) - even if there have
been undeniable *transformations* as for instance in the transition from
family-wise to school-wise organised ritual and religion, and the
transition in the direction of a more Yajurveda dominated ritual. Even when
there seems to have been more room for .Rgvedic poetic creativity in
earlier times, the activity of these poets was following strict ritual
patterns and rules now not known in detail but reflecting in regularities
in the poetic productions. Since a substance may be "psychoactive" in
various dimensions, nothing can be said about its general relation with
ritualization - if at all we would have sufficient data about the latter in
different stages of its development, and if at all, with all those
hypothetical data, the latter would be quantifiable. The terms
ritualization and psychoactivity remain unquantified in Staal's article and
are probably fundamentally unquantifiable the way they are used. Staal's
formula may hence be understood in a "metaphorically mathematical" sense, a
bit like Bierstadt's proposal to take political and social power to be the
product of "men * resources * organization" (Bierstadt 1950 as referred to
in Rappaport 1999: 473 note 13). Even in such a "metaphorically
mathematical" sense, Staal's formula remains problematic - but can it
perhaps be split into acceptable subformula's? One disturbing factor
interfering with the phenomenon which Staal tries to catch in a formula is
that ritual structure, including ritual utterances of linguistic forms, may
itself be conducive to "psychoactive" results.[34] More substantial
problems arise on account of the fact that there are psychoactive
substances which produce effects in a specific dimension such that its
increase is correlated not with a decrease but with an *increase* of a
subject's need for "ritualistic" or "compulsive" actions.[35] There are,
moreover, wider theoretical problems with the hypothesis and formula. Even
when precise data generally become less and less if we go further back in
time, there are theoretical reasons to assume that ritualization was more
rather than less if we gradually approach the pre-human stage in the
evolution of the human animal. Staal himself (1989: 110ff, 279ff) argued
that ritual, which man shares with birds and other animals, precedes
language as we know it with its lexical meanings, characteristic for
humans. After having pointed out similarities between syntactic rules in
language and ritual, he finds various reasons to believe that ritual is the
cause: "this suggests that the recursiveness which is the main
characteristic of the syntax of human language has a ritual origin" (Staal
1989: 112). In language, syntax would be older than semantics (Staal 1989:
112). Referring to the "unenunciated chant" of the SAmavedins and to
meditation mantras, Staal observes: "I am inclined to believe that what we
witness here is not a curious collection of exotic facts, but a remnant or
resurgence of a pre-linguistic stage of development, during which man or
his ancestors used sound in a purely syntactic or ritual manner" (Staal
1989: 113). Staal also argued in detail that the similarity between Vedic
mantras and bird songs are greater than that between mantras and ordinary
meaning (Staal 1989: 279-293). The continuity with animal ritual has been
argued for and demonstrated from quite a different angle by Walter Burkert,
who took ancient Greek ritual as his starting point (cf. Burkert 1979 and

Against this theoretical background it is not convincing to let the
.Rgvedic Soma-ritual start in a romantic era in which man has direct
religious experience through psychoactive substances and is not yet living
a life replete with ritualizations.

An additional problematic point in Staal's article is the suggestion (Staal
2001: 771) that the descriptions found of Soma growing on high mountains
would disqualify the "ubiquitous" Ephedra (the latter, in fact, not being
all that ubiquitous: it does not occur in mid- and South India, and has a
preference for high altitudes). The argument would be tenable only if our
sources presented the Soma as growing on high mountains *exclusively*,
which is not the case. The ritualist's question to the Soma-seller "is it
from mount Mujavat", as we have seen, asks for Soma-plants of top-quality,
and it is presupposed that second-rate Soma-plants are more readily

4.1. Parameters of the Soma-Haoma problem
In the present state of knowledge, any claim that the Soma has been
identified is either rhetorical or it testifies to the methodological
naivety of the author. In reviewing some of the more recent contributions
from Wasson onwards I have not hidden my own direction of thinking. In
spite of quite strong attempts to do away with Ephedra by those who are
eager to see Soma as a hallucinogen, its status as a serious candidate for
the .Rgvedic Soma and Avestan Haoma still stands. For more than the serious
candidacy of Ephedra (or more generally of a stimulant), however, there are
at present no arguments; and alternative candidates cannot be excluded. The
attention paid to the nature of the psycho-physiological state induced by
the Soma, most dramatically emphasized by Wasson, is justified. The trap,
however, in which Wasson and most scholars defending or attacking him have
fallen is to assume that this psychophysiological state must be attributed
straightly to a psychoactive substance which brings about a similar state
in modern, western, well-fed, and possibly smoking and drinking subjects.
It must be clear that this is a shortsighted, anachronistic
presupposition.[36] It is generally forgotten that participants in a Vedic
ritual have undergone preparations which include fasting, restraining
speech, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation by spending the day in a
dark hut, etc. According to the /SrautasUtras, the sacrificer has to fast
"until he has become lean". Less is known about the specific preparations
of the priests for the sacrifice. I am not sure whether such preparations
are simply not current among modern Brahmins performing in Vedic (/Srauta)
rituals, or whether they have been mainly neglected by observers. (I do not
find a reference to such a practice in Staal's overview of the preparations
to the Agnicayana in Kerala, 1975, see Staal 1983, I: 193ff.) In any case,
Stevenson, in the preface to his translation of the SAmaveda (1842:
VIIIff), mentions references in a BrAhmaNa of the SAmaveda to extensive
austerities (including living on restricted food for months and complete
fasting for several days) to be undergone by the priest-singers of the
SAmaveda in preparation for a performance.  It is well known that fasting
alone is a suitable preparation for the physiology to receive visionary
experiences. Of the North-American Indians of the Plains it is known that
they undertake their vision quests without the help of specific
psychoactive substances (except for some who recently adopted the use of
substances used by Mexican Indians), but subject themselves to rigorous
fasting and thirsting.[37]

The human capacity for imagination, vision and hallucination seems to have
been underestimated by Wasson and others. Just because Apollinaire
(1880-1918) published the "visionary" poem Vendémiaire in his collection
Alcools we do not put the label "hallucinogen" on alcohol. A frequently
quoted phrase from William Blake (1757-1827), the poet who was influenced
by Emanuel Swedenborg in his enlightened Christian views, is "To see a
world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in
the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour" - but there is no reason to
assume that Blake's visions, reflected in his poetry and life anecdotes,
were induced by a psychoactive substance.

Thus, with little .Rgvedic evidence for hallucinations in the strict sense
of the word - i.e., perceptions without any objective basis - and with
otherwise a wide spread of .Rgvedic statements pointing in the direction of
a stimulant, the case for a substance which we label as a hallucinogen is
far from compelling. Apart from 10.119, most examples which should testify
to hallucinatory experiences of the authors can be easily explained as
expressions in a professional tradition of poetic imagery.[38] On the other
hand, the case for a stimulant still stands,[39] even with the evidence for
occasional hallucinations and visions in the .Rgveda, because (a)
hallucinations and visions may occur even on account of the absence of
consumption of food or the deprivation of sleep rather than on account of
the consumption of specific additives; (b) stimulants allow subjects to
remain without food more easily (hence their use in weight-loss programs),
and by virtue of this they may be deemed to be able to contribute to
hallucinations and visions; (c) in higher doses and under suitable
circumstances (e.g., exposure to rythms and music), stimulants such as
cocaine and MDMA (XTC) are reported to lead to ecstasy and

Apart from the distinction between stimulant and hallucinogen, a case can
be made for a substance with more subtle psychoactivity than the
sensational fly-agaric proposed by Wasson,[41] in combination with an
elaborate structure of beliefs, interpretations, and physiological
preparations (fasting, silence) of subjects. Especially since Wasson,
scholars interested in the identification of Soma have been overly focused
on the single parameter of the psychoactive substance in the Soma-plant,
and neglected the contributions of the ritual and the belief system to the
construction of experiences reflected in .Rgvedic hymns. Others did
emphasize the belief system and the construction of experience, e.g.,
Elizarenkova and to some extent Oberlies, and they declared the search for
the identification of Soma to be more or less hopeless. No convincing
attempt has so far been made to balance the available indications for all
major dimensions of the issue.

4.2 "Hummel's miracle" and other desiderata
In a posthumously published review of Wasson's book, Karl Hummel (1997: 90)
once expressed the hope that perhaps some time, thanks to a miracle, a
prehistorical find will give us pressing stones or wooden stampers with
remains of the Soma-plant that can be investigated microscopically. As long
as this does not happen, there are still useful fields of investigation to
be explored in connection with Soma and Haoma. As for the "circumstantial"
ethnobiological evidence, at present the evidence of the use of fly-agaric
by tribes in distant North-East Siberia (according to Nyberg 1995 in the
context of recreational use and by second rate shamans) may be regarded as
cancelled by the evidence closer by of early and recent finds of mummies
accompanied by bundles of Ephedra just across the Himalaya, as discussed,
e.g., in Barber 1999 (esp. chapter 8) and Mallory and Mair 2000: 138, 152,
185-187. (For Soma and the life hereafter cf. .RV 9.113.) A more critical
evaluation of the evidence than the references by Mallory and Mair is
needed with regard to the identification of Ephedra by various
archeologists.[42] An investigation of the Vedic ritual and knowledge
system, with much attention to the hymns on Soma, is one thing which has
now received an important recent contribution from the point of view of
religious science by Oberlies (1998 and 1999). Caland & Henry's description
of the AgniSToma on the basis of Vedic texts (1906 and 1907) is still the
basis for the study of the ritual context of the Soma; it would deserve
elaboration and updating in the light of new developments, e.g. new texts
that have become available. Kellens 1989 and Skjaervo 1997 give overviews
of achievements and issues in the study and interpretation of Avestan
texts. A detailed description of the Yasna ritual in which Hom is prepared
and offered appeared from the hand of Kotwal and Boyd (1991). Apart from
occasional and dispersed remarks on similarities in structure and detail of
the Vedic and Zoroastrian rituals (e.g., Hillebrandt 1897: 11), little has
been done on the systematic comparison of the two. Next, the
psycho-physiology of religious, and visionary or hallucinatory experiences,
whatever their cause or occasion, is an important relevant field to be
explored. The psycho-physiological effect of psychoactive substances and
their possible role as catalysts for such experiences are to be
investigated, taking into account the specific preparations undergone by
the participants in the ritual. From the overview of the discussion it must
have become clear that it has been suffering from a definite lack of
terminological and conceptual precision, especially with regard to terms
such as hallucination, vision, stimulant, and psychoactive. A noteworthy
proposal with regard to psychoactive substances was made by classicist Carl
A.P. Ruck and was accepted by Wasson in his later publication Persephone's
Quest: it is better to speak of "entheogen" rather than of "hallucinogen",
as the latter implies a judgemental falseness deriving from our modern
outside perspective.[43] But it is not likely that terminological
improvements alone are sufficient. Digging deeper, we stumble at profound
philosophical problems regarding the comparability of experiences,
including mystical experiences, which can be understood as results of
cultural and linguistic construction. Is there any experiential basis
"beyond language" left, once we find ourselves able to formulate
explanations of linguistic and cultural construction for diverse
experiences related to the use of the same chemical substance in different
cultural contexts?[44] In a comprehensive study of the Soma issue its
implications for the theory of the "entheogen" origin of all religions
should also be evaluated. According to this theory for which Soma as
understood by Wasson was a major example and support, man would originally
have known the psychoactive properties of plants, and religions would be
based on the visions produced by these substances (cf. Wasson 1986 and a
considerable number of recent books in the category "New Age"; only
recently I found references to a publication, Spess 2000, where an argument
is made for new candidates for Soma: the Nelumbo nucifera and members of
the Nymphaea genus: cf.
http://www.innertraditions.com/titles/soma.htm). As we have seen, due to
the "constructed" nature of cognitive events even when incited by
psychoactive substances, one cannot assume the connection between substance
and vision was as simple and straightforward as propounders of the theory
have suggested.

An additional field to be explored is the history of research into the
identity of Soma-Haoma, and the interaction of this research with
subsequent states of ethnobotanical and psychophysiological knowledge, as
well as with popular experience with psychoactive substances - starting end
18th century, through the 19th century, the 20th century before and after
World War II, up to the present. An evaluative and bibliographic overview
of the type Harry Falk (1993) wrote on the subject of the development of
writing in ancient India would be most welcome and most useful to bring the
discussion of the Soma-Haoma issue on a higher level (cf. Lehmann 2000 as
an example of a recent publication characterized by a blissful neglect of
textual evidence, positions held by various scholars and the arguments used
to support them [45]). It is hoped that the present Introduction may serve
as a small step in the direction of such an evaluative overview.

4.3 "Hummel's miracle" in Central Asia?
Under the circumstances sketched above, it was natural that something that
almost seemed like the miracle hoped for by Hummel (1997) attracted wide
attention. The relevant archeological find was not made in India but in
Central Asia. The claim was that ancient ritual objects contained traces of
plants, including some with well known psychoactive properties: poppy seeds
and Ephedra stalks. This "Hummel's miracle" was presented in publications
of Victor I. Sarianidi (e.g., 1994, 1998), and his conclusions on the
findings of Ephedra have been received positively, though not uncritically,
e.g., by Parpola (1995) and Nyberg (1995). The latter had already
investigated specimens provided by Sarianidi but could not confirm
Sarianidi's claims. He concludes a long review of textual evidence and
pharmacological and ethnobiological data with the conclusion that "ephedras
best meet both the textual and pharmacological requirements for the
botanical identification of soma/haoma," but points to the need of "further
archeological discoveries" before conclusive evidence can be provided.

5. The Leiden 1999 Workshop on Soma-Haoma
It was in order to subject these indications for a "Hummel's miracle" in
Central Asia to closer scrutiny that a workshop was organized in Leiden in
1999. Since Sarianidi's claims with regard to early Zoroastrian and Vedic
religion focused on the presence of Ephedra, this candidate for the
original Soma and Haoma was central in the workshop - which was a workshop
in the real sense of the word: the contributors were not required to
present a finished paper but were rather invited to share with others in
the development of their thought on the subject. At the workshop (see the
brief report below) Prof. Sarianidi presented his case, and he moreover
generously offered to send some specimens of the material (a sediment in a
pitcher) in which he claimed traces of Ephedra, papaver and hemp were
present. The specimens arrived a few weeks after the workshop, and Prof.
C.C. Bakels, paleobotanist and specialist in papaver cultivation around the
Mediterreanean and in ancient Europe, enthusiastically undertook their
investigation in spite of her busy schedule. After a few months I received
messages indicating that no proof could be found of any of the substances
indicated by Sarianidi. Rather than hastily sticking to this conclusion,
Prof. Bakels made efforts to show the specimens to other paleobotanists
whom she met at international professional meetings. At the end of this
lengthy procedure, no confirmation could be given of the presence of the
mentioned plants in the material that was investigated. The traces of
plant-substances rather pointed in the direction of a kind of millet. Since
it was felt that proceeding with a publication on the basis of the
presentations in the workshop was not useful as long as Bakels' research
was in progress it was postponed till her results appeared, that is, till
2002. In the meantime only a few contributors of the 1999 workshop were
left who were intending to offer a paper for publication. On the other
hand, we are happy that George Thompson, with a longstanding interest in
the Soma-Haoma problem, was found willing to contribute a paper although he
did not participate in the 1999 workshop.

The general report of the workshop, the research report of C.C. Bakels, and
George Thompson's paper on "ecstasy in the .Rgveda" are now published,
together with the present introduction, in this first part of the EJVS
Soma-Haoma issue. The second part of this issue is to contain a reworked
version of the paper I presented in the 1999 workshop, as well as,
hopefully, some other forthcoming papers and possible reactions to the
present part.

Some relevant sites and links:
A. TITUS (http://titus.uni-frankfurt.de/indexe.htm) and GRETIL
(http://www.sub.uni-goettingen.de/ebene_1/fiindolo/gretil.htm#Veda) for the
.Rgveda and other Vedic Texts.
B. Avesta.org (http://www.avesta.org/sitemap.htm) for Avestan texts with
(often antiquated) translation.
C. Materials for the study of Vedic ritual (http://www.jyotistoma.nl/):
introduction and overview of the Soma-ritual, example translation of first
hymn of the Soma-book .Rgveda 9
(http://www.jyotistoma.nl/EN/First_hymn_of_the_ninth_book.html) and
videoclip of Soma-pressing and of a SAman sung at a Soma-ritual.
D. Amanita muscaria or Fly-agaric:
E. Peganum harmala or Syrian rue, Photograph by Henriette Kress:
F. Flora of Asclepiadaceae, by Li Ping-tao, Michael G. Gilbert, W. Doublas
Stevens (incl. information but no photos on Periploca, Sarcostemma):
G. Soma-substitute "Puutiika" used in Soma-sacrifice in Barsi, Maharashtra,
2001, probably to be identified as Sarcostemma acidum (Roxburgh) Voigt
(Asclepias acida Roxburgh, Sarcostemma brevistigma Wight & Arnott), photo
(© J.E.M. Houben): http://www.jyotistoma.nl/EN/images/Putika.jpg.
H. Species of Ephedra: Photographs by Henriette Kress:
http://www.ibiblio.org/herbmed/pictures/p05/index_3.htm, under Ephedra
equisetina and Ephedra sinica; Christopher J. Earl's Gymnosperm Database
hosted by Univ. of Bonn, Dep. of Botany:
http://www.botanik.uni-bonn.de/conifers/ep/index.htm; a creeper of the
family of Ephedra - of interest in the light of references in post-Vedic
texts that Soma were a creeper - is known as Vine Ephedra (I don't have
information on possible similar kinds of Ephedra creepers in Asia):
; healthnotes online on Ephedra:

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[1] This Introduction is an elaboration of introductory remarks in my paper
presented at the Leiden seminar on the Soma-Haoma issue (Leiden, July 3-4,
1999). For this seminar, support was received from the Research school CNWS
- School of Asian, African, and Amerindian Studies (Leiden University). My
own research in connection with the topic of the seminar was funded by the
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), of which I was a
research fellow from July 1999 till March 2003. I am grateful to the
participants in the workshop for their contributions in the form of papers,
remarks and discussions. Leonid Kulikov deserves special mention for his
kindness to assist in occasional translations from Russian, and after the
workshop to mediate between Leiden and Professor Sarianidi when the latter
was staying in Moscow. Michiel de Vaan kindly helped me get hold of some of
the publications I needed. I am indebted to Frits Staal and George Thompson
for their critical reading of an earlier version of this introduction. I
thank Michael Witzel for accepting to devote an issue of the Electronic
Journal for Vedic Studies to the discussion on the Soma-Haoma problem.
[2] The transcription of Sanskrit follows the conversion table for Old
Indic/Sanskrit of TITUS (Thesaurus Indogermanischer Text- und
http://titus.uni-frankfurt.de/software/fonts/titaind.htm, with the
exception that names that do not appear in quotations or references to the
Sanskrit word have their first letter capitalized. This creates occasional
ambiguities which, however, disappear against the background of a general
basic knowledge of Vedic/Sanskrit.
[3] The transcription of Avestan follows the conversion table for Avestan
of TITUS (Thesaurus Indogermanischer Text- und Sprachmaterialien),
http://titus.uni-frankfurt.de/texte/avesta.htm .
[4] A regular epithet of Haoma, *dUrao^osa*, has been interpreted as
"Todtwehrer" or the one who keeps 'destruction' or 'perdition' (*ao^sa*)
'far away' (*dUra*) (cf. Bartholomae 1904 s.v.). Stuhrmann's suggestion
(1985: 87 and 92 note 20) that the word derives from *dru-oSa
"holzbrennend" does not seem convincing in the context where it occurs;
Flattery and Schwartz (1989: 130) want to understand it as "keeping
destruction far away" in connection with apotropaic powers of the
Haoma-plant which it would especially have when it is burnt. However, if
the association with burning is part of the term's synchronic semantics it
would not suit contexts such as the beginning of Y 9 where there is no
burning but a pressing and libation of Haoma. See for further references to
the discussion Mayrhofer 1992: 733.
[5] Rogerius, Open Deure tot het Verborgen Heydendom, ed. Caland 1915 p. 3:
in a discussion of the Somowansjam [*somavaM/Sa*], the name of a royal
dynasty, Rogerius writes "inde gheseyde Tale beteyckent Somo de Maen".
Rogerius' work was translated into English, German and French and remained
for more than a century an important source of knowledge on India and
Indian religion.
A valuable discussion of early ideas, guesses and philological research on
Soma is found in Doniger O'Flaherty 1969, where the reader will find
references to a few additional contributions left out by me as they seemed
less significant or influential. On the other hand, I mention here a few
authors skipped or overlooked by Doniger O'Flaherty, or not available to
[6] Anquetil-Duperron 1771, vol. 2, p. 535. The classics are
Anquetil-Duperron's frame of reference when he associates the Parsis' Hom
(Haoma) with the ámOmos of the Greek and the amomum of the Romans.
[7] Wilkins 1785, in note 42 (p. 143) to the verse in "Lecture IX" of the
bhagavadgItA in which reference is made to "followers of the three Veds,
who drink of the juice of the Som" (traividyA[H] ... somapAH), observes
that "Som is the name of a creeper, the juice of which is commanded to be
drank at the conclusion of a sacrifice, by the person for whom and at whose
expense it is performed, and by the Brahmans who officiate at the altar."
[8] When Hillebrandt (1927: 201) writes that Mukherjee rejects the
identification of Soma and Cannabis (Bhang), he seems to have misunderstood
Mukherjee's rhetorical question (1921: 244) "From what has been stated
above, may we not conclude that the weight of evidence is in favor of the
identification of Soma with Cannabis (Bhâng)." Mukherjee's view appears in
more detail in a paper that appeared in 1922 (the 9-page booklet present in
the Leiden University library is perhaps an offprint of the paper Mukherjee
announces at the end of his 1921 article as appearing in the Bulletin of
the Indian Rationalistic Society of Calcutta; the name of this journal is,
however, nowhere mentioned in the paper).
[9] Aitchison (1888: 87) also discusses the Periploca aphylla (like the
Sarcostemma belonging to the Asclepiadaceae) which he found in northern
Baluchistan. He notices the native names "Um, Uma; Punjabi Batta." J.G.
Baker suggested it as a candidate for Soma in a letter to the Academy in
[10] See Madaus 1938: 1261.
[11] Madaus1938: 1264.
[12] Lewin thus passes over - is probably unaware of - the fact that
neither the Vedic nor the Iranian ritual have any place for a process of
distillation which would be required to achieve a drink deserving to be
called "strong alcoholic".
[13] In his Brave New World Revisited (1959: 99-100) Huxley states in
retrospect: "The Soma of Brave New World had none of the drawbacks of its
Indian original. In small doses it brought a sense of bliss, in larger
doses it made you see visions and, if you took three tablets, you would
sink in a few minutes into refreshing sleep."
[14] Two papers appearing in a recent volume on Aldous Huxley (Barfoot
2001) are of considerable, direct importance for the Soma-problem: Albrecht
Wezler's confrontation of Huxley's ideas on 'psychedelic' drugs in India
with presently available data and theories on the use of drugs, especially
Soma, and, from quite different contexts, Bhang (Cannabis), as means to
mystical experience; and Wilhelm Halbfass' profound analysis of
philosophical problems related to drug-induced mystical experiences
according to Huxley and in Indian philosophy. Relevant for, though not
directly dealing with, the *interpretation* of the Soma-experience by
Huxley is Johannes Bronkhorst's discussion of Huxley's theory of a
*philosophia perennis* consisting of features which all or most religions
would share.
[15] The book is also often referred to as appearing in 1968. In the copy
in the library of the Kern Institute I searched in vain for the publication
date. In Richard Evans Schultes' foreword in Wasson 1972a we read that "Mr.
R. Gordon Wasson" brought out his SOMA Divine Mushroom of Immortality on
April 15, 1969. But in 1986 Wasson writes (p. 26): "At the end of 1968 or
the beginning of 1969 our SOMA finally apeared ... " I will stick here to
1969 as its publicaton date.
[16] J. Brough (1971: 332 note 1) notes that "Mr. Wasson ... was for 10
years a Research Fellow of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, now
Honorary Research Fellow; also Honorary Research Associate and former
member of the Board of Managers of the New York Botanical Garden."
[17] Huxley and Wasson knew each other quite well. Cf. Wasson in a
autobiographical passage, 1969: 175: "I do not recall when the Soma
possibility first drew my attention ... From 1955 on I was in intermittent
correspondence with Aldous Huxley, and often when he visited New York he
would come down to Wall Street and have lunch with me." And cf. Huxley, in
a letter to a friend written in 1957 (in Huxley 1977: 132): "While I was in
New York, I lunched with Wasson [. . . .] [H]e has put an immense amount of
work into his subject, and the material brought together in his vast tomes
is very curious and suggestive. However, he does, as you say, like to think
that his mushrooms are somehow unique and infinitely superior to everything
else. I tried to disabuse him. But he likes to feel that he has got hold of
the One and Only psychodelic - accept no substitutes, none genuine unless
sold with the signature of the inventor."
[18] Similarly, Kuiper 1970: 282: "Generally speaking, his [Wasson's]
interesting attempt to interpret the Vedic evidence in the light of his
novel theory encounters difficulties when the separate passages are
considered in the context of Vedic mythological and ritualistic thought."
Kuiper illustrates the point with Wasson's interpretation of .Rgveda
9.86.44c (Wasson 1969: 41) and of .Rgveda 9.97.9d (Wasson 1969, plate VIII
a and b). Brough discusses Wasson's interpretations of 9.97.9d, 9.71.2d,
9.70.7d, 9.75.2 and of notions recurring in .Rgveda-translations such as
"the udder and Soma", "Soma's 'head'", "the single eye", "mainstay of the
sky", "the filtres", and the Vedic sah/asrabh.r.s.ti.
[19] A list of "principal reviews" of Wasson 1969 appears at the end of
Wasson 1972a.
[20] Wasson goes so far as to indulge in near-abusive rhetorics on the
reviewers who do not accept his hypothesis. Thus, in 1972a he writes:
"These two statements, Brough's and Kuiper's, reveal the absurd isolation
in which some Vedic scholars live by choice." Before embarking on his
investigation of the points presented by Wasson, Brough (1971: 331)
discusses the state of the art in the Soma-Haoma discussion before Wasson
1969 and observes " ... and the opinion is widely held that the problem is
insoluble." In almost paranoiac fashion Wasson (1972a: 10) perceives here a
conspiracy of "Brough and other Vedic scholars" to be satisfied with the
"anonymity of Soma" as "a built-in element in Vedic studies" and to want to
keep it like that. As for the statement of Kuiper that enraged Wasson, it
is: "This means that the search for 'the original Soma' might lead us far
beyond the field of Indo-Iranian studies proper" (Kuiper 1970: 284). As
linguist and as mythologist of the Indian area and of Indo-European
cultures, Kuiper himself is habituated to "go beyond the field of
Indo-Iranian studies proper". Immediately preceding this statement Kuiper
is discussing aspects of Nordic myths relevant to the Soma-issue. The
implication which Wasson connects with this statement is hence
preposterous: " ... as though such excursions were dangerous temptations to
be avoided." Apparently in a more balanced state of mind and with a strong
sense of the importance of his own researches he writes elsewhere in a
recapitulation of his argument for non-indologists (1972b: 208): "Professor
F.B.J. Kuiper of Leiden is a thousand times right in saying that 'the
complexities of the problem should not ... be underestimated.' He adds that
the identification of Soma must take the seeker far beyond the confines of
Indo-Iranian studies proper. This is where I have gone." It is in any case
ironic that Kuiper's review which infuriated Wasson in 1972a was read as an
acceptance of Wasson's thesis as probable by Frits Staal in 1983, I: 106.
Kuiper does conclude his discussion on a non-committal but quite positive
tone when he writes: "Wasson, with his unique knowledge of the use of
hallucinogens in Eurasia, may be perfectly right in assuming that the
original Soma plant was the Amanita muscaria, but to prove this the
evidence of the Rigveda would seem to lack decisive force."
[21] While Kashikar 1990 does more justice to the important and extensive
branch of literature of this period, a comprehensive overview and study of
relevant passages is still a desideratum.
[22] Wasson's enthusiastic presentation on the use of the fly-agaric with a
view to identify them with the Vedic Soma may have to be amended in some
respects. Cf. the conclusion of Nyberg 1995: 392-393 on Amanita muscaria as
a candidate for Soma, especially his third point: "In my opinion, *Amanita
muscaria* is unsuitable for any identification with *soma/haoma* on the
following grounds: 1) The mushroom produces visions, sleep and/or a
peaceful state of intoxication; the duration of effects is short; 2)
*soma/haoma* is prepared from stems or stalks, which most probably should
be regarded as fibrous (Brough 1971; Falk 1989) while the fleshy stems of
*A. muscaria* contain only very small amounts of the pharmacologically
active compounds, which are concentratred instead in the mushroom cap
(these are the only parts of the mushroom used in northern Siberia); 3)
culturally, the use of *A. muscaria* occurs only among the shamanistic
peoples of northern Eurasia and it is neither a required part of any
shamanistic rite, nor regarded as holy in them. On the contrary, only the
'weak' shaman or a 'recreational user' has to resort to the use of the
mushroom (Eliade 1964: 210; Saar 1991); 4) the mushroom must have been rare
in any of the proposed Indo-Iranian homelands. In contrast, when the use of
*soma/haoma* began, the Aryans seem to have been inhabiting a region where
the to-date unidentified plant was abundant."
[23] See especially Wasson 1969, Part One, chapter IV: "Soma Was Not
[24] In his 1969 book Wasson's strategy is to distinguish between the
.Rgveda and later texts, and between a later part of the .Rgveda and an
earlier one (the latter comprises the ninth or Soma-Ma.n.dala). In his
answers to Brough, however, he suggests (1972a: 14) that the crucial
episode of the pressing of the Soma-plants with stones or stampers is
adventitious, even if references to the pounding and the pressing stones
and stampers occur dispersed throughout the different sections of the
.Rgveda. including those which Wasson uses for his positive
[25] Stuhrmann 1985: 91 quotes here Oldenberg's expression (1894: 182)
"formloses Gewirr von Bildern und mystischen Phantasmen".
[26] Falk extends his argument too far when he says (1989: 82) not only
that Soma creates wakefulness, but also that it originally must have been
offered to Indra during the night.
[27] Cf. Madaus 1938: 1263; on the modern use of stimulants in psychiatry
with brief references to their history as well as to Ephedra: Fawcett and
Busch 1998.
[28] Cf. the discussion of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) and its
pharmacological properties by Shulgin and Nichols 1978. The authors are
aware of its "occasional and erratic appearance in the illicit street drug
market", but apparently not yet familiar with its later popular name
Ecstasy or XTC. Briefly on the relation between chemical structure and
psychopharmacological effects of MDMA and related compounds: Fawcett and
Busch 1998: 505-506.
[29] Cf. note 36 below.
[30] Together with Asko Parpola, Kashikar published an overview of recent
/Srauta traditions in India in Vol. 2 of Staal's Agni, and remarked
(Kashikar and Parpola 1983: 248) that for the original Soma "[t]he most
likely candidate seems to be some species of Ephedra."
[31] Doniger O'Flaherty's brief section on the BrAhmaNas and /SautasUtras
in her discussion of the post-Vedic history of the Soma-plant, was
therefore misleading in that she presented these texts  as only speaking of
substitutes whereas it is clear that their authors presuppose those who
employ the texts to be well aware of the distinction between the real
Soma-plant and its substitutes.
[32] A Maharashtrian sweet dish made out of beestings is reported to have a
light yellowish collor (Madhav Deshpande, Indology Discussion Archive
11-02-2003, and, off-list, Vishal Agrawal 12-02-2003, in response to a
question I asked on the Indology list - 11-02-2003
[33] I thank the author for kindly sending me this paper on a subject about
which we have discussed at a few occasions.
[34] In fact, this is a point in Staal's own argument 26 years earlier:
Staal 1975, e.g. p. 195: "So far, the following causes may be assumed to be
conducive to mystical experiences: birth, meditation, asceticism, drugs,
mantras, yantras, special devices like kaSiNa, *rituals*, devotion to a
deity" (my emphasis, J.H.).
[35] Cf. already Lewin 1927: 180 on the effect of alkaloids in Belladonna
and Datura: "Ein Schneider, der unter den Einfluss von Belladonna und
Datura gekommen war, zeigte die übliche Pupillenerweiterung neben Krämpfen.
Nachdem diese nachgelassen hatten, setzte er sich im Bette so zurecht, als
wäre er auf einem Schneidertisch, und manipulierte, als wenn er mit seiner
Arbeit beschäftigt wäre, die Nadel oft einfädeln müsste usw. Dabei hörte
und sah er nicht. Das Bewusstsein fehlte. Dieser Zustand hielt fünfzehn
Stunden an." Cf. also Fawcett and Busch 1998: 507: "In humans, both cocaine
and amphetamine produce behaviors characterized by repetitious arrangement
of objects. Such behaviors may be analogous to stereotyped behaviours
induced by amphetamines in animals (K.S. Patrick et al. 1981)."
[36] See also the criticism on Flattery and Schwartz uttered by Nyberg
1995: 399: "To say that the effects of ephedras are "of insufficient
intensity" or "too inconsistent in character" (in Flattery and Schwartz
1989: 72) seems to reflect a tendency to apply modern methods of clinical
drug evaluation to an ancient culture having a very different psychological
pattern and way of life when compared with modern Western culture."
[37] Lowie 1954: 157: "Woodland and Plains Indians deliberately went out to
a lonely spot in order to obtain a revelation. ... the normal procedure was
to go into solitude, fast and thirst for four days, and supplicate the
spirits to take pity on the sufferer." Blackfoot specialist L.M. Zuyderhout
kindly drew my attention to the sections on visions and shamans in Lowie
1954, and informed me (email 27.01.2003) on the basis of her extensive
fieldwork that also women may go on a vision quest and fast and thirst
although there are hardly published sources on this. In addition, women had
to fast in connection with the Blackfoot Sun Dance.
[38] Soma is connected with poetic inspiration and with dh/I or 'vision'
(cf. Gonda 1963: 41, 51, 69, 73ff), but generally these cannot be regarded
as "hallucinations"; browsing through Geldner's Register to his .Rgveda
translation, we find listed as the effects of Soma (Geldner 1957: 248-249)
that it incites thought (1.129.6 m/anma r/ejati, 6.47.3 manIS/Am ...
ajIgaH), it is able to engender poetical thought (9.95.1 mat/Ir janayata),
is the progenitor of poetical thoughts (9.96.5 janit/A matIn/Am), opens the
doors to the thoughts (1.46.5 AdAr/a, 9.10.6 /apa dv/ArA matIn/Am ...
.rNvanti [s/omAsaH]).
[39] Cf. in Geldner's Register to his .Rgveda translation, among the
effects of Soma (Geldner 1957: 248-249): Soma keeps awake (8.2.12 jarante,
said of the Soma juices; 3.37.8 j/Ag.rvi said of the Soma); it gives
strength (9.90.2 vayodh/A). Apart from this useful but quite incomplete
thematic index cf. also statements such as 9.1.10ab asy/ed /indro m/adeSv
/A v/i/SvA v.rtr/ANi jighnate "In the exhilerations of this (Soma), Indra
destroys all obstructions and obstructors"; 9.113.1 /SaryaN/Avati s/omam
/indraH pibatu v.rtrah/A b/alaM d/adhAna Atm/ani kariSy/an vIry\am mah/ad
"At the /SaryaN/Avat (lake), Indra the V.rtra-killer must drink the Soma,
putting strength in himself, about to perform a great heroic feat."
[40] Cf. from Fischman's (1987: 1544) summary of the general effects of
stimulants, in this case specifically cocaine and amphetamines -note their
correlation with stereotyped behaviour (ritualization), my emphasis:
"Humans given single moderate doses of cocaine and amphetamine generally
show a decrease in food intake and fatigue and an increase in activity,
talkativeness, and reports of euphoria and general well-being. At higher
doses *repetitive motor activity (stereotyped behaviour)* is often seen,
and with further increases in dose, convulsions, hyperthermia, coma, and
death ensue.
The effects of cocaine and amphetamine in most non-human species parallel
those seen in humans. At lower doses, animals are active and alert, showing
increases in responding maintained by other reinforcers but often
decreasing food intake. Higher doses produce species-specific *stereotyped
behavior patterns*, and further increases in dose are followed, as in
humans, by convulsions, hyperthermia, coma, and death."
[41] The case for a more subtle psychoactive substance as candidate for
Soma and Haoma can be supported by contrasting the modern, "secular" use of
tobacco in recreational smoking, with its use among the South-American
Warao when communicating with the supernatural (Wilbert 1972). What is
experienced as a light relaxing influence in modern society was associated
with communication with a different world among the Warao. Wilbert 1972:
55: "Even if it is not one of the 'true' hallucinogens from the botanist's
or pharmacologist's point of view, tobacco is often conceptually and
functionally indistinguishable from them." As for the Soma and the Soma
ritual, with a more subtle psychoactive substance as candidate for Soma it
will be easier to explain the gradual, noiseless disappearance of "the real
Soma" in the ceremony devoted to its celebration (imagine a marriage where
no-one notices that the bridegroom has silently disappeared ...), after an
intermediate phase in which substitutes were occasionally permitted.
[42] On problems regarding Stein's finds in the 1930'ies cf. Flattery and
Schwartz 1989: 73 note 6; and on problems in connection with Ephedra in the
Bactria-Margiana archeological complex cf. Bakels in the present issue.
While the references by Mallory & Mair are frequent but marginal, Barber's
discussion (1999, chapter 8) of the Ephedra found with the mummies is more
elaborate, takes notice of the re-identification of some samples of
mummy-Ephedra as Equisetum, and forms part of an argument for the ethnic
identification of the mummies. Just as Mallory & Mair she takes Sarianidi's
conclusions regarding the use of Ephedra in Margiana for granted - Bakels'
contribution shows that such easy acceptance is unwarranted.
[43] Cf. Wasson in Wasson et al. 1986: p. 36-37: "Some of us formed a
committee under the Chairmanship of Carl Ruck to devise a new word for the
potions that held Antiquity in awe. After trying out a number of words he
came up with *entheogen*, 'god generated within', which his committee
unanimously adopted, not to replace the 'Mystery' of the ancients, but to
designate those plant substances that were and are at the very core of the
Mysteries." Unlike Wasson I see no reason to restrict the term to
substances currently labeled as hallucinogens, but I would include
psychostimulants, as well as alcohol and hashish which Wasson wants to
exclude on account of their use as recreational drugs (he forgets that they
have been and often still are used as instruments in mystical quests, cf.
Wezler 2001, whereas, on the other hand, his fly-agaric is also in use as
recreational drug, cf. Nyberg 1995: 392-393 quoted in note 22), and tobacco
(cf. previous note).
[44] With regard to K.C. Forman's question (1990: 5): "Are there some
experiences, or some specifiable aspects of human experience, that are not
'constructed' by our language and belief?" the answer suggested by
cross-cultural experience with psychoactive substances from tobacco and
alcohol to CNS-stimulants and hallucinogens would seem to be that only very
general aspects of the experience (e.g., euphoria, hallucination,
synesthesia) have a stable correlation with specific substances, whereas
the actual "contents" of the experience are entirely constructed. An
analysis of the category of "experience" in the encounter between India and
the West was given by Wilhelm Halbfass in 1988: 378-402. With regard to
Huxley's interpretation of Indian traditions Halbfass points out (2001:
233) that "'Experience' is the common denominator in Huxley's fascination
with drugs and his interest in Indian philosophy"; he observes that it is,
however, only in Neo-VedAntic thought that experience, rather than
traditional authority, starts to play the decisive role accepted by Huxley.
When Bronkhorst (2001) attempts to find shared features in the religions
adduced by Huxley to establish his "perennial philosophy" it is significant
that it is precisely the category of "experience" that he leaves out.
[45] According to Lehmann, the Soma of the .Rgveda was pressed not from a
green plant or from a mushroom but from honeycombs, especially from those
of the Indian giant or rock bee. The significant difference with
Oldenberg's honey-theory is that the latter saw evidence that already in
proto-Indo-Iranian times the honey was replaced by a plant (to whose sap
honey was added in the ritual!). Lehmann does not address the question why
the knowledge of Soma as honeycomb and the techniques to press the honey
out of them would have got lost over the centuries whereas honey itself
remained a familiar product. As a bee from flower to flower, Lehmann (2000:
195: "Mir fehlen Kentnisse des Sanskrit") jumps from the one to the other
far-fetched text-interpretation that he deems "possible", and happily
concludes his paper with the statement that the Soma-problem is now solved.
Still of interest is the attention he pays to the story of the monkeys in
the Madhuvana (Raamaaya.na 5.59-61), and the state of *mada* they attain
when consuming the available honey. It is possibly the earliest extensive
literary description in the Sanskrit tradition of a *mada* in all its
shades from happy exhileration to aggressive behaviour towards the guards
of the "honey grove".



                    Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies


Editor-in-Chief:  	Michael Witzel,   Harvard University

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Yasuke Ikari            	Kyoto University

Boris Oguibenine        	University of Strasbourg

Asko Parpola            	University of Helsinki


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