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Vol. 9 (2003)  Issue 1b (May 4)

(©) ISSN 1084-7561

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



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


(1a)	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)

(1c)	3. Report concerning the contents of a ceramic vessel found in
the "white room" of the Gonur Temenos, Merv Oasis,  Turkmenistan (C.C. Bakels)

(1d)	4. Margiana and Soma-Haoma (Victor I. Sarianidi)

(1e)	5. Soma and Ecstasy in the Rgveda (George Thompson)

(1f)	6. Contributors to this issue, Part I


Brief report of the
The Soma/Haoma-cult in early Vedism and Zoroastrism:
Archeology, Text, and Ritual
LEIDEN, 3-4 JULY 1999
Jan E.M. Houben

This workshop was organized and hosted by the Research school CNWS,
University of Leiden, to deal with a 'perennial' problem in Indology and
Iranology: the nature of the Soma/Haoma plant and the juice pressed from
it. Soma/Haoma plays an important role in Vedic and Zoroastrian ritual and
mythology. Recent discoveries at Margiana, modern Turkmenistan, showed the
remains of a temple-cult in which several plants were employed. According
to the archeologist Prof. V.I. Sarianidi, working on sites in Margiana
since more than a decade, these plants include papaver and Ephedra. As
early as in 1922, the Ephedra has been mentioned as the best candidate for
the plant from which juice is extracted and consumed in the Vedic
Soma-ritual, as well as in the Avestan Haoma-ritual (Modi 1922:301-5).
After a period of investigations of all kinds of other candidates - e.g.
alcoholic drinks based on rhubarb (Stein 1931) or honey or millet; a
mushroom, Amanita muscaria or fly-agaric (Wasson 1968); the Syrian rue
(Flattery & Schwartz 1989) - several recent studies have again arrived at
Ephedra as a plant which could very well have been used in the
Soma/Haoma-rituals. The recent discoveries in Margiana would lend
additional support to the identification of Soma/Haoma as Ephedra. The
complex problem of the Soma/Haoma-cult involves the archeological
interpretation of material remains (making use also of botanic and medical
knowledge), the philological understanding of ancient Vedic and Avestan
texts, and an anthropologically sound reconstruction of an evolving ritual
system connected with the material remains and the texts. Scholars with
diverse academic backgrounds and specializations had been invited to
present a paper at the workshop.
	After the opening address of Prof. J.C. Heesterman, the first
lecture was given by the archeologist of the Iranian world Dr. W. Vogelsang
(research school CNWS, Leiden University). In his lecture, "The advent of
the Indo-Iranians: the Minefield of Archeological Interpretation,"  Dr.
Vogelsang dealt with the implications of the findings in Margiana for the
large problem of the presence of the 'Indo-Iranians' in the northwest of
the Indian subcontinent and the Iranian world, at least from ca. 1
millennium B.C. onwards. The common view is that the Indo-Iranians are a
'branch' of nomadic or semi-nomadic Indo-Europeans, who entered the Iranian
world from the north. In his recent book, Margiana and Proto-Zoroastrism,
V.I. Sarianidi argues that the temple-cult for which he found indications
in Margiana is a predecessor of the Zoroastrian rituals centering around
Haoma and fire. The inhabitants of the building complexes in Margiana and
Bactria (BMAC) would have been Indo-Europeans, ancestors of the Iranians
and Vedic Indians. Vogelsang, however, argues that it is not likely that
the nomadic or semi-nomadic Indo-Europeans got settled in the BMAC
buildings, though they may have been in close contact with this urbanized
culture, and may have been influenced by their rituals, perhaps including
rituals in which Ephedra and other plants were employed.
	Dr. A.F. de Jong (Leiden University, Faculty of Theology),
specialist in Zoroastrism and religions of antiquity, gave the next lecture
entitled "Triple Haoma in the Development of Zoroastrian Traditions." Dr.
de Jong emphasized the importance of mediaeval developments in Zoroastrism,
which determine to a great extent our perception of the earlier phases. In
this later Zoroastrism, the physical Haoma plays a minor role, while the
mythological and eschatological Haoma is of great importance. Finally, the
problem of the interpretation of the 'triple Haoma' which is mentioned in
later texts was addressed.
	The last morning lecture was a presentation by Prof. V.I.
Sarianidi, in which he gave information about the archeological findings in
Margiana, including the most recent ones of this spring. Prof. Sarianidi
illustrated his lecture with numerous slides. He could demonstrate quite
convincingly that some special buildings were used for purposes which
involved the use of various plants. Stylized drawings suggested that plants
including papaver, hemp and Ephedra were of importance to the former
inhabitants of the archeological complexes.
	In the afternoon, Indologist Prof. Harry Falk (Berlin) gave a
lecture entitled "Decent drugs for decent societies," in which an overview
was provided of the major current arguments for the identity of the Soma.
Some new considerations were added to the arguments which Prof. Falk
presented 12 years ago (also in Leiden, at the 8th World Sanskrit
Conference) in favour of the Ephedra-thesis. Especially the type of
behaviour to be expected after employment of different types of drugs, and
its suitability or otherwise in a certain type of society and ritual,
received Prof. Falk's attention in this lecture. It was argued that the
effects of the fly agaric (initially sopoforic, later increased
aggressivity, deteriorated ability to formulate sentences), are very
contrary to what is to be expected from Soma (stimulating wakefulness,
poetic inspiration; no aggressivity). The effects of Ephedra would suit
much better the references in the hymns and the employment in the ritual.
	The second afternoon lecture, by Dr. Jan E.M. Houben (Kern
Institute, Leiden), was devoted to a hymn in the .Rg-Veda which refers to a
rare way of Soma-preparation quite different from the elaborate and solemn
form known from the ritualistic texts and also presupposed in numerous
other Łg-Vedic hymns. This exceptional Soma-preparation, obsolete for about
two millennia, is undertaken privately with household mortar and pestle as
its simple instruments. Typologically it may be regarded as an intermediary
between two well-known types: the Zoroastrian (simple, with mortar and
pestle) and the Vedic (elaborate, with special stones and boards). Current
treatments of the hymn such as the one by K.F. Geldner do not bring out
satisfactorily its relevance for the ritual practice reflected in it.
	The last afternoon lecture was by Drs. Friso Smit, who is
specialising in ethno-pharmacognosis at the department of medicinal
chemistry, Utrecht University. In his presentation, "The Soma-Haoma problem
from ethno-farmaco-gnostical perspective" Smit enlightened the participants
about chemical and pharmacological aspects of the Ephedra-plant and related
drugs, and about their use in various ethnic communities. The
pharmacological effects of ephedrine generally suit the effects ascribed to
Soma and Haoma (including negative effects with too high doses).
	The next day a video-film on the Zoroastrian Yasna ceremony
(produced by Prof. Dr. J. Boyd, Colorado State University) and parts of The
Pravargya Ritual: performances in Delhi (produced by J.E.M. Houben and
Nandini Bedi) were shown and discussed. Next, the results of the lectures
of the previous day were further discussed. As for the main topic of the
workshop, the identity of the Soma/Haoma, most participants could accept
Ephedra as a serious candidate. Diverging views were held, and continued to
be held, regarding implications for problems of the social, cultural and
linguistic situation of ancient South and Central Asia-problems which are
both theoretically and ideologically very sensitive. Professor Sarianidi
graciously offered to send some specimens of the material containing plant
remains to Leiden for further investigation.