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Soma

Soma

A term found in the hymns of the Rig-Veda, one of the four sacred scriptures of ancient India (the others are the Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Artharva Veda ). The essential teachings of the Vedas were recast in the form of the Upanishads, of which there are 108 principal scriptures and a number of minor ones.

The ninth chapter of the Rig-Veda comprises 114 verses in praise of soma, the ambrosia of the gods and the elixir of immortality. It is clear that soma was also an intoxicating drink (possibly made from the milk-weed asclepias acida described in the Yajur Veda as a dark, sour creeper without leaves). This drink was offered by the priests as a libation to the gods, much as wine is used sparingly in the sacraments of the Christian religion for symbolic purposes.

In the twentieth century, several writers, most notably R. Gordon Wasson in his book Soma, Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1968), have speculated that soma was the amanita muscaria (a mushroom with hallucinogenic properties) and that Hindu mysticism arose from intoxication of the priests. This suggestion stemmed from Wasson's research in Mexico, when he discovered a Mazatec Indian religious practice based on the use of a hallucinogenic mushroom.

Wasson's soma theory became attractive during the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s, and it became fashionable to expand upon Wasson's view to assert that transcendental revelation had always been stimulated by the use of psychedelic drugs. Another writer, John M. Allegro, suggested in his book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (1970) that the crucifixion story of Jesus was a symbolic myth of the ecstasy produced by a psychedelic drug.

Intoxicating (as opposed to psychedelic) beverages have certainly been known since ancient times in Egypt, India, Greece, and Rome. Warnings about intoxication abound in ancient writings, notably in the Bible, in the Proverbs of Solomon, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea. In the Christian religion, the apostle Paul complained of drunkenness at the agape, or love feasts, celebrated in common. Novatian, a Church father of the third century, spoke of Christians who, in the morning after fasting, began the day by drinking, pouring wine into their still "empty veins," and were drunk before eating.

In India, the Manava Dharma Shastra (Ordinances of Manu), a code of religious and civil duties, prohibited intoxication on the part of Brahmin priests and made it clear that the soma drink was from a plant, not a mushroom. This plant is sometimes called the "moon plant," and soma was traditionally associated with the moon.

Yoga treatises on meditation suggest that the true soma, or elixir of life, is the union of the twin currents of kundalini energy in the human body, culminating in higher consciousness. Some Hindus believe in kundalini as a latent energy situated at the base of the spine that is activated in normal life in sexual activity, but which may also be drawn upward in subtle channels of the spine to a center in the head, illuminating the consciousness with mystical awareness. The goal of some forms of yoga practice is often referred to as the union of the sun and moon, the fiery and cool kundalini currents in the spinal column. At the junction of these currents, the blissful condition is described as "drinking the soma juice," and the energy flow as "amaravaruni " (wine drinking).

The elaborate symbolism and metaphor of Hindu mysticism has often misled commentators into literal interpretations. While intoxicants and hallucinatory drugs may produce transcendental experiences, throughout history great prophets and mystics, as well as scientists and geniuses, have been inspired by a higher consciousness that owed nothing to intoxication or hallucinogenic mushrooms. The twentieth-century discovery of psychedelic drugs and their power to transform normal consciousness have misled many people into vastly overstating the role of such substances in the history of mystical experiences. Critics of drug use have also complained that the use of drugs for mystical purposes has yet to "produce a single inspiring statement on the philosophy and meaning of life comparable with the wisdom of the prophets and mystics of history."

In the 1960s, several groups were formed in the United States to promote the idea of the religious use of psychedelics, but most of these dissolved following negative court actions. Outside of these circles, as recently as 1988, a short-lived attempt to defend the psychedelic/soma connection was made in the journal ReVision (vol. 10, no. 4, spring 1988). There was little positive response and a strong rebuttal by Gene Kieffer, a follower of Indian teacher Gopi Krishna.

Sources:

Allegro, John M. The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1970; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970.

Gopi Krishna. The Awakening of Kundalini. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1973.

Iyangar, Yogi Srinivasa. Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika of Svatmarama Svamin. Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1933.

Kieffer, Gene. "An Appeal for Common Sense." SFF Newsletter [Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship] (October 1988).

. "It's Not the Soma that the Brahmans Know!" SFF Newsletter [Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship] (September 1988).

. "ReVision Revisits the Sacred Mushroom." SFF Newsletter [Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship] (August 1988).

Masters, R. E. L., and Jean Houston. The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience. New York: Delta, 1967.

Rele, Vasant G. The Mysterious Kundalini: The Physical Basis of the "Kundalini (Hatha) Yoga" in Terms of Western Anatomy and Physiology. Rev. ed. Bombay, India: D. B. Taraporevala, 1950.

Wasson, R. Gordon. Soma, Divine Mushroom of Immortality. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.

Zaehner, R. C. Mysticism: Sacred and Profane. London: Clardenon Press, 1957. Reprint, Galaxy Book, 1961.

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Soma

Soma (Skt., su, ‘to press’).
1. Intoxicating or hallucinogenic juice or substance, offered in Hinduism to the gods, and ingested by the brahmans and other participants in sacrificial rituals. The identification of the plant is uncertain and contested. All 114 hymns of Ṛg Veda 9 are addressed to Soma. The ways of preparing and drinking soma are carefully described, and it is said to make one acquire the eight powers of the god.

2. Hindu moon god who protects herbs and rides in a chariot drawn by white horses or antelopes. The moon is the cup of soma (above).

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soma

soma (sō´mə), psychotropic plant, the juice of which was sometimes drunk as part of the Vedic sacrifice (see Veda). Many hymns in the Rig-Veda are in praise of soma. In the late Vedic period substitutes for soma came to be used, and the original plant was lost. It has recently been identified with the fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria, used in Siberian shamanism.

See R. G. Wasson, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1971).

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soma

soma an intoxicating drink prepared from a plant and used in Vedic ritual, believed to be the drink of the gods.

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soma

soma (soh-mă) n.
1. the entire body excluding the germ cells.

2. the body as distinct from the mind.

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soma

somadormer, former, korma, Norma, performer, pro-forma, stormer, transformer, trauma, warmer •sixth-former • barnstormer •aroma, carcinoma, chroma, coma, comber, diploma, glaucoma, Homer, lymphoma, melanoma, misnomer, Oklahoma, Omagh, roamer, Roma, romer, sarcoma, soma •beachcomber •bloomer, boomer, consumer, Duma, humour (US humor), Nkrumah, perfumer, puma, roomer, rumour (US rumor), satsuma, stumer, Sumer, tumour (US tumor) •zeugma • fulmar •bummer, comer, drummer, hummer, midsummer, mummer, plumber, rummer, strummer, summa, summer •latecomer • newcomer • agama •welcomer •astronomer, monomer •ashrama • isomer • gossamer •customer •affirmer, Burma, derma, Irma, murmur, squirmer, terra firma, wormer

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SOMA

SOMA (ˈsəʊmə) Society of Mental Awareness

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