The texts describe the preparation of soma by means of extracting the juice from a plant, the identity of which is now unknown and debated among scholars. In both the ancient religions of Historical Vedic religion and Zoroastrianism, the name of the drink and the plant are the same.
There has been much speculation about the most likely identity of the original plant. Traditional accounts with unbroken continuity in India, from Ayurveda and Siddha medicine practitioners and Somayajna ritualists undoubtedly use "Somalata" (Sarcostemma acidum). Non-Indian researchers have proposed candidates including Amanita muscaria, Psilocybe cubensis, Peganum harmala and Ephedra sinica. According to recent philological and archaeological studies, and in addition, direct preparation instructions confirm in the Rig Vedic Hymns (Vedic period) Ancient Soma most likely consisted of Poppy, Phaedra/Ephedra (plant) and Cannabis.[better source needed]
Soma is a Vedic Sanskrit word that literally means "distill, extract, sprinkle", often connected in the context of rituals.
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In the Vedas, the same word (soma) is used for the drink, the plant, and its deity. Drinking soma produces immortality (Amrita, Rigveda 8.48.3). Indra and Agni are portrayed as consuming soma in copious quantities. In the vedic mythology, Indra drank large amounts of soma while fighting the serpent demon Vritra. The consumption of soma by human beings is well attested in Vedic ritual.
The Rigveda (8.48.3) says:
ápāma sómam amŕ̥tā abhūma
áganma jyótir ávidāma devā́n
kíṃ nūnám asmā́n kr̥ṇavad árātiḥ
kím u dhūrtír amr̥ta mártiyasya
Ralph T.H. Griffith translates this as:
We have drunk soma and become immortal; we have attained the light, the Gods discovered.
Now what may foeman's malice do to harm us? What, O Immortal, mortal man's deception?
Swami Dayanand Saraswati explains this as:
Good fruit containing food not any intoxicating drink, we drink you
You are elixir of life, achieve physical strength or light of god,
achieve control over senses;
In this situation, what our enemy can do to me?
God, what even violent people can do to me?
Also, consider Rigveda (8.79.2-6) regarding the power of Soma: "...He covers the naked and heals all who are sick. The blind man sees; the lame man steps forth....Let those who seek find what they seek: let them receive the treasure....Let him find what was lost before; let him push forward the man of truth...." Such is indicative of an experience with an entheogen of some source...(Michael Wood (historian)).(The Story of India)
The finishing of haoma in Zoroastrianism may be glimpsed from the Avesta (particularly in the Hōm Yast, Yasna 9), and Avestan language *hauma also survived as Middle Persian hōm. The plant haoma yielded the essential ingredient for the ritual drink, parahaoma.
In Yasna 9.22, haoma grants "speed and strength to warriors, excellent and righteous sons to those giving birth, spiritual power and knowledge to those who apply themselves to the study of the nasks". As the religion's chief cult divinity he came to be perceived as its divine priest. In Yasna 9.26, Ahura Mazda is said to have invested him with the sacred girdle, and in Yasna 10.89, to have installed haoma as the "swiftly sacrificing zaotar" (Sanskrit hotar) for himself and the Amesha Spenta.
Candidates for the plant
Since the late 18th century, when Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron and others made portions of the Avesta available to western scholars, several scholars have sought a representative botanical equivalent of the haoma as described in the texts and as used in living Zoroastrian practice. In the late 19th century, the highly conservative Zoroastrians of Yazd (Iran) were found to use ephedra, which was locally known as hum or homa and which they exported to the Indian Zoroastrians.
In the late 1960s, several studies attempted to establish soma as a psychoactive substance. A number of proposals were made, including one in 1968 by the American banker R. Gordon Wasson, an amateur ethnomycologist, who asserted that soma was an inebriant but not cannabis, and suggested fly-agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, as the likely candidate. Since its introduction in 1968, this theory has gained both detractors and followers in the anthropological literature. Wasson and his co-author, Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, drew parallels between Vedic descriptions and reports of Siberian uses of the fly-agaric in shamanic ritual.
In 1989 Harry Falk noted that, in the texts, both haoma and soma were said to enhance alertness and awareness, did not coincide with the consciousness altering effects of an entheogen, and that "there is nothing shamanistic or visionary either in early Vedic or in Old Iranian texts", (Falk, 1989) Falk also asserted that the three varieties of ephedra that yield ephedrine (Ephedra gerardiana, E. major procera and E. intermedia) also have the properties attributed to haoma by the texts of the Avesta. (Falk, 1989) At the conclusion of the 1999 Haoma-Soma workshop in Leiden, Jan E. M. Houben writes: "despite strong attempts to do away with ephedra by those who are eager to see sauma[sic] as a hallucinogen, its status as a serious candidate for the Rigvedic Soma and Avestan Haoma still stands" (Houben, 2003).
The Soviet archeologist Viktor Sarianidi wrote that he had discovered vessels and mortars used to prepare soma in Zoroastrian temples in Bactria. He said that the vessels have revealed residues and seed impressions left behind during the preparation of soma. This has not been sustained by subsequent investigations. Alternatively Mark Merlin, who revisited the subject of the identity of soma more than thirty years after originally writing about it stated that there is a need of further study on links between soma and Papaver somniferum. (Merlin, 2008)
In his book Food of the Gods, ethnobotanist Terence McKenna postulates that the most likely candidate for soma is the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis, a hallucinogenic mushroom that grows in cow dung in certain climates. McKenna cites both Wasson's and his own unsuccessful attempts using Amanita muscaria to reach a psychedelic state as evidence that it could not have inspired the worship and praise of soma. McKenna further points out that the 9th mandala of the Rig Veda makes extensive references to the cow as the embodiment of soma.
Transcendental Meditation movement
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