views updated


HAOMA . Both a "being worthy of worship" (yazata), or deified personification, and a substance ingested during Zoroastrian ritual sacrifices, haoma has an exact parallel in the soma of ancient India: *sauma, from the verb sav ("to press, to crush"), is the reconstructed Indo-Iranian form. What the substance was originallya plant or its sap, or a hallucinogenic mushroom such as Amanita muscaria (Wasson, 1968)is not certain. What is certain, however, is that the Indo-Iranian form serves as evidence of a common ritual background in Iran and India. We also know that in both countries the original substance has been substituted with another; for centuries Zoroastrians have continued to use a species of Ephedra in their ritual sacrifices. This plant grows in many regions of Central Asia and Iran and yields a juice with hallucinogenic properties. Haoma must have been both a hallucinogen and a stimulant: it was reported in the ancient texts to give strength, victory, health, and wisdom and to induce an ecstatic state.

The cult of haoma, later to become an essential part of Zoroastrian rites, was originally denounced by Zarathushtra, who refers to it in the Gāthās in negative terms: Haoma is the "urine" of an intoxicating drug (Yasna 48.10). Several scholars have opposed such an interpretation, maintaining that neither animal sacrifice nor haoma was ever denounced by the prophet (R. C. Zaehner, Marijan Molé, and Mary Boyce), but their arguments are not convincing. The complex of rites, myths, and legends connected with haoma belongs to the pre-Zoroastrian Indo-Iranian tradition and is at the center of a scenario dominated by the warlike god Indra, who, in Zoroastrianism, was relegated to the rank of demon. It is most likely, then, that the acceptance and use of the drug was a reintegration that occurred in the religion after the time of the prophet. In the later texts of the Avesta, Haoma, like other beings readmitted to the cult, is a yazata to whom a hymn, the Hōm Yasht (Yasna 911), is dedicated. The hymn is recited during one of the most important parts of the complex ceremony of the Yasna. At the end of the recitation, the officiating priest drinks haoma that has already been prepared and consecrated ritually according to meticulous rules of purification, presumably in order to induce an ecstatic state.

See Also



Boyce, Mary. "Haoma, Priest of the Sacrifice." In W. B. Henning Memorial Volume, edited by Mary Boyce and Ilya Gershevitch, pp. 6280. London, 1970.

Brough, John. "Soma and Amanita Muscaria." Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 34 (1971): 331362.

Flattery, David Stophlet, and Martin Schwartz, Haoma and Harmaline. Berkeley, 1989.

Gershevitch, Ilya. "An Iranianist's View of the Soma Controversy." In Mémorial Jean de Menasce, edited by Philippe Gi-gnoux and A. Tafazzoli, pp. 4575. Louvain, 1974.

Henry, Victor. "Esquisse d'une liturgie indo-éranienne." In L'Agnioma, description complète de la forme du sacrifice de Soma, edited by Willem Caland and Victor Henry, vol. 2, pp. 469490. Paris, 1907.

Modi, Jivanji Jamshedji. The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Parsees. 2d ed. Bombay, 1937. See pages 300ff.

Nyberg, H. S. Irans forntida religioner. Stockholm, 1937. Translated as Die Religionen des alten Iran (1938; 2d ed., Osnabrück, 1966).

Wasson, R. Gordon. Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. New York, 1968.

Wasson, R. Gordon. Soma and the Fly-agaric. Cambridge, Mass., 1972. A rejoinder to Brough (1971).

Gherardo Gnoli (1987)

Translated from Italian by Roger DeGaris