A Rebuttal to Criticisms of The Cannabis Soma Theory in Secret Drugs of Buddhism by Mike Crowley
CANNABIS CULTURE – In this article, part 4 in a series on the identity of the ancient Vedic and Avestan sacraments soma and haoma, I will address some recent despairing criticisms of The Cannabis Soma Theory
As it was laid out in my 2010 book Cannabis and the Soma Solution. This critique appeared in Mike Crowley‘s book Secret Drugs of Buddhism (2nd ed., 2019) which was discussed in relation to The Soma Mushroom Theory, which was part 3 of this series. A more focussed critique of Crowley’s book, will follow this article.
This article is Part 4 of a series on The Soma-Haoma Question, and other articles thus far include:
As with most books dealing with the identification of Soma, including my own, Crowley’s book begins with an overview of the various botanical candidates for the sacred beverage, before moving on with his personal candidate, the mushroom. And it is here in Crowley’s discussion ‘Some Soma Theories’ that he discusses my own work in this area, and references my 2010 book Cannabis and the Soma Solution.
In this regard, I will be highlighting a number of false claims made about my own work, in Secret Drugs of Buddhism:
- Crowley states that Professor Victor Sarianidi never claims that the finds in the Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex of cannabis, epehedra and poppy were identified by Sarianidi as being used for soma/haoma, and this was a conclusion that I had jumped to. Not true.
- Crowley indicates that I unknowingly cited the wrong passage in the Satapatha Brahamana, again not true.
- In his criticisms of the terms uśana and Indrisana, Crowley leaves out the main point of what myself and other researchers have pointed to in this regard – the well known identification of a sanskrit name of cannabis, sana.
- Crowley states the term bhang appears nowhere in the Vedas associated with soma. It does and this was clearly cited in my book.
- Crowley states that I claimed the Tibetan references to soma-razda are “clear evidence that the Vedic soma was cannabis”, which is again false, my position was that this was more evidence that cannabis was soma, to go along with the plethora of evidence I used to make my case. Moreover in a footnote Crowley further claims I cited him regarding the identity of soma in this respect, and denies he made any such statement. I referenced Crowley only once in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, it was verbatim, and I made no direct comment on the citation.
Other criticisms in Crowley’s book are fair subjects of interpretation and debates. I will address all of them.
What irks me about the numbered references above is that they are patently false statements used by Crowley, as an attempt to dismiss my work and prop up his own. I actually know Crowley, we have met in person a number of times, and we are connected in social media. Thus, he could have reached out to me and asked me for clarification on where I stood on those issues, and I would have corrected him and he would not have had these false statements in his book. In fact, to make a point, he even steps outside of my book in reference and cites some personal correspondence or conversation we had, which I have no way of even knowing what he refers to. In a case like that, a direct quotation is what is called for, and when I direct my case against Crowley’s questionable ethics as a researcher and writer here, there will be direct citations involved. I even reached out to Mike to ask him directly about these things, and he chose to just break contact.
However, Crowley’s comments did inspire this series, and reinvigorated my interest in the Soma question, so there is that.
In the beginning…..
Crowley begins his dismissal of cannabis as a soma candidate with the statement, “we know very little of how or when cannabis was introduced into into India” (Crolwey, 2019). Well we do know a thing or two….
As I noted in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, the general consensus is that cannabis came to India, via the Indo-Europeans, i.e., the same people who brought soma. “By ca. 3000 BP, Cannabis had most likely migrated west and south over the Himalayas and into India, probably coming with nomads and traders over the trade routes that crossed the region” (Clarke & Fleming, 1998).
The original Aryan tribes probably introduced the hemp plant into India sometime in the second millennium B.C. These migrating invaders most likely entered the Indian sub-continent via accessible passes in the high mountainous regions bordering the area… Thus, in the early phases of Indian history, hemp probably was a relatively obscure plant for the mass of population centered on the lowland doabs (interfluves) and in the riverine valleys. (Merlin, 1973)
Textual evidence,regarding the use of cannabis in India, as both a medicine and spiritual intoxicant, clearly goes back to ancient times. As the late pioneer of medical Marijuana Dr. Todd Mikuriya noted “There seems to be some disagreement on the nature of the earliest medical applications of cannabis in India. It was used as medicine before 1000 B.C.” (Mikuriya, 1973). “Medical and sacred use in India… predates written records (Atharva Veda, 1400 B.C….” (La Barre, 1980). “For millennia in India, Cannabis has been cited as a medicine for almost any ailment: to ameliorate catarrh, to relieve haemorrhoids, gonorrhoea, asthma, ‘stitches on the side’, and diarrhea. It was cited as aphrodisiac…” (Nahas, et al., 1999). Unlike much of the rest of the world, the ancient use of cannabis, as a religious sacrament, medicine and even recreational use, has continued up to the modern day.
The Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex
An important piece of evidence, and one that Mike Crowley seems to have vastly misinterpreted in his rush to discredit my own work, is the discovery of a number of temple sites in the outer regions of Afghanistan known as the Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex (BMAC) where the Russian archeologist Professor Victor Sarianidi found 3 temple sites that he believed were devoted to the preparation of the haoma/soma beverage. Crowley makes a comment here about my references to Sarianidi’s work – “However, Bennett may be making more of this than is justified. Sarianidi himself does not make the claim that it is a ‘soma temple,’ merely that the finds suggest the ritual use of an intoxicant in a manner that is similar to the soma rite” (Crowley, 2019).
Prof. Sarianidi clearly stated that these “excavations documentally proved that poppy, cannabis and ephedra were used for making the soma-haoma drinks, and thickets of these plants were found in excess in the vicinity of the excavated temples of Margiana” (Sarianidi, 2003). In his article Margiana and Soma-Haoma he writes:
In the Zoroastrian religion haoma had a triple image, that is haoma as the ritual narcotic drink, haoma as the plant used for making the intoxicating drink, and haoma as the diety or legendary priest: the personification of the plant and drink…. so far only in Margiana and Bactria there were found material proofs of the usage of the alkaloid plants (ephedra, cannabis and poppy) for the preparation of the intoxicating drink of the soma-haoma type. And finally, it should be mentioned that only in Margiana the local tribes built monumental temples in honour of the intoxicating drink soma-haoma (more precisely, in honour of the Soma-haoma god), which do not leave any doubts about its divine status.
Another proof of the divine character of Soma-haoma is the fact that three out of four Margianian monumental temples were dedicated to the cult of this drink. It is clear that the above-mentioned direct archaeological proofs make one believe that the soma-haoma cult in the Zoroastrian religion found its origin among the related cults that were spread in “Iranian paganism”, precisely in Margiana and in Bactria in particular. At the same time one should not concentrate only on these two historical regions. The area where this cult drink was spread includes the whole of “Outer Iran” from eastern Iran and up to the Indus valley. (Sarianidi 2003) [Emphasis added]
Despite that sort of clarity, in both Sarianidi’s article ‘Margiana and Soma-Haoma’ (2003) and his book Margiana and Protozoroastrianism (1998) regarding his find, and its association with these sacred beverages, Crowley stated that “Bennett may be making more of this than is justified” and that “Sarianidi himself does not make the claim that it is a ‘soma temple,’ merely that the finds suggest the ritual use of an intoxicant in a manner that is similar to the soma rite” (Crolwey, 2019), which as we can see is a completely false statement. As we can see above, Sarianidi most clearly identifies the drinks prepared as identical with soma/haoma, and specifically in regards to the temple sites.
However, there have been some criticisms of Sarianidi’s claims and Crowley would have presented more of a challenge had he focussed on that. Crowley does mention these issues elsewhere in the book, but I suppose the research I laid out in that regard convinced him otherwise, as he does not raise the issue when he is attempting to discredit my own work, and seems to accept the botanical identifications of Sarianidi’s team. However, Crowley then still goes with the demonstrably false claim, that Sarianidi made no direct connection to soma/haoma, which is sloppy research, if not ill intended. I address these other concerns about Sarianidi’s identification in The Cannabis Soma Theory, as well as new archeological finds, which help make a case for it.
Braja Lal Mukherjee and ‘The Soma Plant’
Another false statement directed at discrediting my own work Crowley puts forth is “Chris Bennett draws on an ‘article in response to an earlier article’ by Braja Lal Mukherjee in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society for 1921 and directs our attention to verse the Satapatha Brahamana 188.8.131.52, a Vedic commentary” (Crowley, 2019). Nowhere in my book or the page listed to I cite that verse from the Satapatha Brahamana. I specifically cited verses 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11. Crowley even cites one of the same verses I actually used, in his ‘correction’ of a mistake I never made. It is in regards to this reference that he also makes some ignorant and despairing comments about the Indian academic and author Braja Lal Mukherjee. As Crowley bitingly remarks: “Firstly, the piece by Mukherjee, was not as Bennett assumed, a peer reviewed article but simply was printed in the Miscellaneous Communications section of the Journal” (Crowley, 2019).
To be fair, I did cite it as an article, as Murkherjee has a book by the same title that was referred to in the Journal, and the pdf I cited here- The Soma Plant was less clear about it being a letter. As well, there is mistake in Mukherjee’s piece, regarding the citation Crowley noted, but it is not repeated in my own book, yet Crowley plays it over into my book, as can be seen in his comment above. (This would be on the level of me making Hay of Crowley’s getting the publishing year of my book wrong, which he did, and the other more serious mistakes’ we will look at).
Crowley then despairingly talks of the Indian researcher “No doubt the review board would have noticed that neither uśana nor soma, is mentioned in the verse” (Crowley, 2019). Here Crowley has a point, Mukherjee did make a mistake on the citation of the verse, listing Satapatha Brahamana 18.104.22.168,, and then Crowley corrects this, with one of the same verses I had used in my book, but Crowley leaves the reader to believe I had followed Mukherjee’s error without ever looking it up myself.
Now firstly, Crowley makes a lot of assumptions here about Sj. Braja Lal Mukherjee, M.A., M.R.A.S.. he was a respected Indian scholar who wrote a booklet by the same name as the letter, The Soma Plant which the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society referred to in another issue:
The Soma Plant. By Sj. Braja Lal Muhkerjee, M.A.,
M.R.A.S. 6|x9|, 9 pp. Calcutta, 1922.
The object of this little essay is to demonstrate that the Soma plant of Vedic ritual is not, as is commonly supposed, the Asclejpias acida, but the Cannabis sativa or Indian hemp. The negative side of its argument seems to us rather more effective than the positive, and the author’s treatment of the literary sources is not always convincing ; but on the whole he makes out a case for hemp which deserves serious consideration.
As Joges-Chandra Ray noted in his 1939 article on Soma in The Indian Historical Quarterly “I am indebted to late Mr. Brajalal Mukherjee, M.A., M,R.A.S. for the suggestion that Soma· might be Cannabis sativa. He wrote and published in Calcutta in 1922 a small pamphlet on the Soma plant” (Ray, 1939). I was aware of this reference and searched for Mukherjee’s work, and found the letter, which i assumed was related to the book, and an article. Being the first to suggest the identification of sana [cannabis]to usana and soma I wanted to be sure to give this researcher credit. As well, unable to cite my book in reference to his comment about my mistaking Mukherjee’s article as a peer reviewed piece, Crowley refers to a supposed conversation we had at some point, citing personal correspondence, and makes the assumption that the letter was the only entry Mukherjee ever made on this topic, unaware of his book, or Mukherjee’s background. At least Crowley mentioned him by name, Wasson just refers to Mukherjee as an “Indian”. However what Crowley does do, is ignore all the other Indian researchers who built on Mukherjee’s work and who I cited at length.
The Satapatha Brahmana, uśana’ and sana [Ssk. hemp]
Here is some of what I expressed about uśana in Cannabis and the Soma Solution:
The Satapatha Brahmana, which records the name ‘uśana’ as the main component of the Soma beverage, is thought to have been composed during the first half of the 1st millennium B.C., belonging to the Brahamic period of Vedic Sanskrit. The group of texts to which it belongs, the Brahmanas are generally described as occupying an intermediate position, in chronology, character, language, and mythology, between the Vedic hymns, and the Indian epic poems and Puranas. The Satapatha Brahmana is a very important text, containing accounts of Creation, the Deluge of Manu (Great Flood), as well as, in great detail, the preparation of altars, ceremonial objects, ritual recitations, and the Soma libation, along with the symbolic attributes of every aspect of the rituals. Verses 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 of the Madyhyandina recension of the Satapatha Brahmana refer to the plant called ‘uśana ’;
Satapatha Brahmana, 188.8.131.52
Soma is a God, since Soma (the moon) is in the sky. ‘Soma, forsooth, was Vrita; his body is the same as the mountains and rocks: thereon grows the plant uśana,’—so said Svetateketu Auddalaki ‘they fetch it hither and press it; and by means of the consecration and the Upasads, by the Tanunaptra and the strengthening they make it into Soma.’ And in like manner does he now make it into Soma by means of consecration and the Upasads, by the Tanunaptra and the strengthening.
Satapatha Brahmana, 184.108.40.206-17
Thereupon he proceeds with (the offering of) the cakes of the Soma feast. Now Soma is a god, for Soma was in the heaven;–Soma forsooth, was Vritra; the mountain and stones are his body: thereon grows that plant called uśana , said Svetateketu Auddalaki; that they bring hither and press.’…. when he proceeds with (the offering of) Soma feast cakes, he puts sap into it: thus it becomes Soma for him.
They all belong to Indra; for Indra is the deity of the sacrifice: that is why they all belong to Indra.
These references in the Satapatha Brahmana to uśana , are the clearest textual identification of the name of the plant from which soma was originally made in the whole of Sanskrit literature, unfortunately this plant, as with soma, is not clearly identified, but as we shall see there is a strong case for cannabis in this, in that sana identifies cannabis, and this may be a variant, possibly to distinguish resinous cannabis, hypothetically usana, from fibre cannabis, which appears in this same religious text as sana.
After correcting Mukherjee’s mistaken citation of Satapatha Brahamana 220.127.116.11, (these things happen to all scholars I am sure he realized it after the letter was in print) with the very verse that I cited 18.104.22.168, with no mention of my correct citation, Crowley continues this critique Mukherjee’s work. Noting that “the glossing of uśana as ‘hemp’ is not supported by any dictionary” (Crowley, 2019). This may be true, but there are so few to no entries on the word out there. Nowhere did I find any confirmed or repeated identity for a plant candidate for the term uśana and as Crowley fails to offer any himself, when making his comment, I think we can safely assume he came up empty as well….. He certainly found no references for the mushrooms he is suggesting as soma.
The real issue here is Crowley leaves out that the Sanskrit term sana, which accounts for all but the ‘u’ in uśana, was a well known word for ‘hemp’ and this formed the main part of Mukherjee’s case, as well as others who I cited in reference to the term, such as Joges-Chandra Ray, who in his 1939 essay about cannabis The Soma Plant, unequivocally also connected uśana with the Sanskrtit name for cannabis, sana as did Mukherjee before him in 1921.
The few books I could find that offered a description of uśana did not even list any potential botanical candidate, but simply refer to its association with soma. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872), simply lists uśana as the name of “a plant from which the Soma juice is produced”. We find a similar entry in The Penguin Book of Hindu Names (1993) and likewise Life style and technical occupations in the Vedic age (1995) by Pradyot Kumar Dutta, simply lists of uśana “a plant from which Soma was prepared”. In Ṛgveda for the Layman (2002) Shyam Ghosh says of uśana “The word is used also figuratively to indicate a ‘plant’ from which soma juice is extracted”. Again, in a similar fashion, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy in The Door in the Sky: Coomaraswamy on Myth and Meaning (1997) also makes a similar connection to the term “‘Uśana’…. ‘which they collect whence and press’… i.e., the Soma… and… the plant that is actually collected is ‘not really Soma’… but only ritually made to be Soma.” This is a ritual relationship, like the Catholic prayers that put the body and blood of Christ into bread and wine of the Eucharist, but here with a potent entheogen (at least at this stage of soma history).
Uśana and sana
Crowley, purposely misses the point of what is discussed, and fails to mention that only the ‘u’ in uśana, was suggested in this regard by Mukherjee, and that the remainder of the term is the Sanskrit names for cannabis, ‘sana’. As I clearly noted in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, Mukherjee based much of his assertion on references in the Satapatha Brahmana that refer to a plant “uśana” from which soma is made, pointing out that sana was a name of cannabis. As Mukherjee explained, the ‘u’ in ‘uśana ’ was a prefix carryover from the Kiratas, and when the ‘u’ is dropped you return to one of the original Sanskrit names for cannabis ‘sana’. “The English word hemp, Greek kanna and Latin canna-(bis) are the same as Sana” (Ray, 1948). “The name Sana is derived from Sana, the true hemp. It is the same word as Gk. Kanna from which the Latin name of the plant, Cannabis sativa is derived” (Chatterjee, 1943). As Muller and Oldenberg noted of the term sana in their Vedic Hymns (1892/2001):
The occurrence of the word sana is of importance as showing how early a time the Aryans of India were acquainted with the uses and name of hemp. Our word hemp, the A.S. haenep, the old Norse hanp-r, are all borrowed from Latin cannabis, which like other borrowed words, has undergone the regular changes required by Grimm’s law in Low-German, and also in High-German, hanaf. The Slavonic nations seem to have borrowed their word for hemp (Lith.kannape) from the Goths, the Celtic nations (Irish cannib) from the Romans… The Latin cannabis is borrowed from the Greek, and the Greeks… most likely adopted the word from the Aryan Thracians and the Scythians. KavvaBis [sic, kannabis] being a foreign word, it would be useless to attempt an explanation of the final element bis, which is added to sana, the Sanskrit word for hemp… Certain it is that the main element in the name of hemp was the same among the settlers in Northern India, and among the Thracians and Scythians through whom the Greeks first became acquainted with hemp. (Muller & Oldenberg, 1892, 2001)
Other sources that identify cannabis with the Sanskrit sana, include A Dictionary of the Economic Products of India (1889); A Dictionary, Bengáli and Sanskrit (1833): A Comparative Grammar of Sanskrit, Greek and Latin (1869); The Sanskrit Epics (1998); A Companion to Sanskrit Literature (1989); There are countless sources listing this designation including modern educational websites such as Spoken Sanskrit.
And best for our uses, the Indian researcher Joges Chandra Ray in his 1939 essay about cannabis The Soma Plant, gives a thorough rundown on the various references to sana in the ancient Indian literature, noting its connection to both cannabis and soma, the confusion caused by the shared use of the term with other fibre plants, and ending the discussion with one of the above references to uśana from the Satapatha Brahmana, and the reason for more than one name for the plant, such as “Bhanga and Sana It is well-known that one and the same plant may have more than one name, and one and the same name may denote more than one plant” (Ray, 1939).
Now despite the well known use of cannabis for its psychoactive properties, India also used a lot of what we would describe as, industrial hemp, and I am not just referring to cloth here, in later times they plastered some of the most sacred temples in India with a preparation of hemp. During the “the 6th and 11th centuries AD, the Rashtrakuta dynasty and the Yadavs built a group of 34 caves in the north-west city of Aurangabad, in Maharashtra. Carved out of stone, each of these caves was dedicated to one of three religions— Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism… They used cannabis mixed in with the plaster that covers the shrines painted walls and ceilings, along with some clay and lime… the cannabis present in the earthen mix seems to have played a key role in preventing the… site from decaying over the 1,500 years of its existence. (Joseph, 2017)
The amount of cannabis fibre needed to plaster these ancient temple walls, must have indeed been staggering. Just as we have come to use an older generic term for cannabis ‘hemp’ to identify the plant when grown for industrial purposes, to distinguish it from ‘marijuana’, cannabis flowers, so may the ancient Indians seek terms to distinguish varieties of cannabis and cannabis products, the ‘u’ in uśana my have been for just that. In fact, the term ‘Indian hemp’ was conceived from ‘hemp’ by Dr. Robert Hooke, to distinguish the psychoactive varieties from the plant that was coming in from India, from the more inert European industrial varieties. These designation for hemp and Indian hemp have fallen by the wayside for the most part, and now we refer to Cannabis sativa and Cannabis Inidica, although we know psychoactive properties are held in both strains. However in this regard, the term sana has also been used in references that indicate cannabis’s psychoactive properties such as the Chakrasamva Tantra from the 8th-9th century AD, so sana was clearly in use for cannabis, wether for fibre or intoxicating, at this later date, but then Indrasana, a term we shall return to, occurs not long after this, possibly to distinguish the intoxicating varieties of sana from the purely industrial, as is suggested here for the earlier ‘u’ in uśana.
As I noted in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, the Satapatha Bramana, which we have discussed at length here for its reference to uśana as the plant used for soma, also refers to the Brahminical thread, a ritual cord worn tied around the waste. Interestingly, the Satapatha Bramana specifically identifies hemp as sana the fibre to be used, and this may be an indication that the u in uśana may have been used for the intoxicating parts of the plant, and sana more generally for the fibre. “It is made of hemp [sana]. Hempen it is in order to be soft” (Satapatha Bramana)
The idiosyncrasies of the name Indrasana
It is indeed curious that Crowley would leave sana out of his discussion of Murkherjee’s theory, as this was the main point of his case, and particularly as I laid this out in my book. In fact I would say this omission was intellectually dishonest. However, Crowley does refer to sana in at least one other reference, in a composite word, combined with Indra, the God most directly related to Soma, and I would argue that here too, we see further indications as sana as both cannabis and Soma, alongside more evidence of the sort of intellectual dishonesty from Crowley, that I have been highlighting in this article.
One of the Sanskrit words for cannabis, Indrasana (‘Indra food’), is taken by Bennett to indicate that it was the soma enjoyed by Indra in the Vedas. If this were the case, we might expect to see the term Indrasana in the Vedas, but it does not occur anywhere until the twelfth century CE.. It is by no means certain when cannabis was introduced to India but whenever it was, it is quite possible that the name Indrasana could simply have meant “the kind of food Indra would like.” (i.e. a psychoactive drug).
A further complication is that the word Indrasana is ambiguous. While it does, on occasion, refer to ‘cannabis,”that is only a secondary meaning. The word usually signifies a plant (Abrus precatorius) whose tiny seeds were used as units of weight by jewelers. A. precatorius has now psychoactivity but is extremely poisinous due to the potent toxin abrin. (Crowley, 2019)
In regards to Crowley’s reference to Abrus precatorius, he cites Sir Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages (1899), this is the passage, “Indrisana, m. hemp (dried and chewed); the shrub which bears the seed used as a jeweller’s weight, Abrus Precatorius“. That is all it says, nowhere does he say that cannabis is a secondary use for the term, in fact he lists it first, and context would be easy enough to differ the two in references. I will make a point of using this same source material to show issues with Crowley’s own interpretations and translations.
As well, I suspect the A Sanskrit-English Dictionary is the only source that Crowley could find that even listed Abrus Precatorius, as its the only place I have come across it, and I have seen the term in countless books as a reference to cannabis. In point of fact, a search of Google books, revealed this as the only identifiable source that listed this designation. Compare this with searches of Indrasana and hemp or cannabis, and you will find countless entries like “The hemp plant, in Sanskrit Bhanga and Indrasana, ‘Indra’s hemp,’ The Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay (1890); “Hemp. Sanskrit: Vijaya, Bhanga, Maadini, Maatulani, Indrasana, Jaya, Mohini, Shakrasana, Trail-okya vijaya. Ganja (Female flowering tops)” Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants of India (2011); “Cannabis, Hemp; Indian Hemp; Sans.- Bhanga, Chapola, Ganja, Ganjika, Indrasana” Sacred and Magico-Religious Plants of India, (2005); “Bhanga, Ganjka, Indrasana, Shivpriya” Herbal Resources of India and Nepal, (2015). Clearly, Crowley is in a vastly unsupported territory when it comes to the meaning and identification with Indrasana, particularly in regards to the second part of this portmanteau, sana.
Also interesting that when Crowley refers to the rare Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, he completely ignored Monier-Williams many references to sana as hemp! In fact Monier-Williams even identifies other composite words like sana-sutra “hempen cord”, so the indication for Indrasana and sana should not have been missed, and as it is made clear in my Book, as well as Murkhjee’s piece. I believe this omission shows again Crowley’s level of dishonesty to his readers in his efforts to discredit my work. Nowhere does he provide any sort of identifiable source for his identification of the term meaning a generic ‘psychoactive drug’ or ‘food’.
In regards to the latter, this identification of Indrasana as sacred food likely came from from descriptions of its ingestions, which came about after the composite Indrasana had been formed. G. A. Grierson, C.I.E., lists the word as Indracana, in his 1893 essay ‘On references to the hemp plant occurring in Sanskrit and Hindi literature“, and notes that:
In the tenth century the intoxicating nature of bhang seems to have been known: and the name Indracana, Indra’s food, first appears, so far as I know, in literature. Its intoxicating power was certainly known in the beginning of the fourteenth century. In a play written in the beginning of the sixteenth century, it is mentioned as being consumed by jogis [yogis](Caiva [Shiva] mendicants). It is there named “Indra’s food.”
“The Rajavallabha, a materia medica, by Narayanadasa kaviraja, the date of which I do not know, but which is quoted in the Cabdakalpadruma, and is believed to be ancient, has the following:
Cakra-canam tu tiksno-snam moha-krit kustha-nacanam
Bala-medha-gni-krit-clesma -dosa-hari rasayanam
Jata mandara-manthanaj jala-nidhau piyusa-rupa pura
Trailokye vijaya-prade ‘ti vijaya cri-devaraja-priya
Lokanam hita-kamyaya ksiti-tale prapta naraih kamada
Sarva-” tanka-vinaca-harsa-janani yaih sevita sarvada.
“Indra’s food (i.e. ganja) is acid, produces infatuation, and destroys leprosy. It creates vital energy, the mental powers, and internal heat, corrects irregularities of the phlegmatic humour, and is an elixir vitae. It was originally produced, like nectar, from the ocean by the churning with Mount Mandara, and inasmuch as it gives victory in the three worlds, it, the delight of the king of the gods, is called vijaya, the victorious. This desire-fulfilling drug was obtained by men on the earth, through desire for the welfare of all people. To those who regularly use it it begets joy and destroys every anxiety.” (Grierson, 1893)
Note a different word seems to be the source of the translation for “Indra’s food” in the original Grierson translates from “Cakra-canam”. and i suspect this is the same as the “sakrasana… the worthy food of Indra” referred to by Russo in his 2005 essay ‘Cannabis in India: ancient lore and modern medicine‘. In regards to the term Indracana, and Indrasana, in many cases this may be a translation issue, as it has been noted “Hemp (Cannabis), also known as Indracana, Cana in Sanskrit is the name for Hemp for which Cannabis has been derived“, which is basically the same suggestion that has been noted of Indrasana and sana. As well Grierson spells ‘Shiva’ as Caiva, so this seems likely.
The large and popular 11th-century Sanskrit medical manuscript named Vaṅgasena Saṃhitā, recorded “One who takes powdered Indrasana (Cannabis sativa Linn) 320gm, powdered crystaline sugar 280 gm, honey 140 gm and ghrta [clarified butter]70 gm mixed together in a dose of 4gm daily with milk and takes diet of milk and cooked rice becomes free from all disease, handsome, young and lives long.” These historical references make it clear, the term Indrasana was in common use to identify cannabis in this period, despite Crowley’s unfounded claims to the otherwise.
As with his false indications that I had posted the wrong passage from the Satapatha Bramana, Crowley here tries to play that I was confused on the origins of the term Indrasana, and was writing about it as if it was a term in ancient Sanskrit texts. This is wholeheartedly untrue. Here are some excerpts on this term from Cannabis and the Soma Solution and you can plainly see the identification of the term originating in the 10th century texts.
As the Satapatha Brahmana [22.214.171.124-17] refers to Indra as the deity of the Soma sacrifice, in relation to the word ‘usana’ and ‘sana’ for cannabis, it is important to note The Calcutta Journal of Medicine recorded “The Sanskrit name of Cannabis Sativa is Indrasana” (Sircar, 1906). Likely the name Indrasana came about through these references in the Satapatha Brahmana and this name as a designation for cannabis has been widely acknowledged. “The hemp plant in Sanskrit is referred to as bhang and Indrasana. In the east, it had been known as a fibre plant from pre-historic times” (Roy & Rizvi, 1986).“Ganja or Indian hemp (Cannabis sativa)… is generally taken in the form of bhanga (also called Indrasana or Vijaya), a drink made from its flowers” (Shukla, 1994).“Indrasana a favourite drink of Indra (the king of gods)” (Fernandez, 1894). In Pharmacographia Indica we read:
“Indrasana, ‘Indra’s hemp’… is described in the Atharvaveda as a protector, and it is supplicated to protect all animals and properties. The gods are said to have three times created this herb… Indra has given it a thousand eyes, and conferred on it the property of driving away all disease and killing all monsters; it is praised as the best of remedies, and is worn as a precious talisman…” (Dymock, et al., 1893)
Thus Indrasana has medicinal, spiritual and fibrous properties. Interestingly, as we shall discuss later, all these same attributes are applied to Soma. Likely due to such connections regarding hemp, Indra and “soma, the favorite drink of the God Indra, which was offered to the mortal so that they might find happiness,” C. Stefanis, C.Ballas and D. Madianou concurred that the sacred elixir “contained cannabis” (Stefanis, et al., 1975; 1977)….
….Tenth century references to hemp, which coincided with a return of the Vedic religion as the ‘National religion’, refer to cannabis under the name Indracana, also Indrasana (Indra’s food, Indra’s hemp). Thus at the time of a return to Vedic traditon it is duly noted that Indra’s favorite drink is prepared from hemp (Watt 1889).“Indrasana as a name for hemp (perhaps by confusion with Indra-sana, which would mean the hemp of Indra) is mentioned in the Sabdamalan (quoted in the Sadakalapadruma) and appears in its prakit form – Indrasana – in Dhurtasamagama”(Doniger-O’Flaherty, 1970). As discussed earlier… the term Indrasana is likely much later came about, from the the Satapatha Brahmana, written in the first half of the 1st millennium, which refer to the plant called ‘usana’ (prefix u-, Sk. –sana, hemp) from which Soma is made and which was dedicated to Indra (Satapatha Brahmana, 126.96.36.199). When the consecration of cannabis as the Soma came to be virtually prohibited to Brahaman through The Laws of Manu, and the Aitareya Brahmana, Indra’s Soma, much later became the unconsecrated Indrasana, i.e. Indra’s hemp….
….As with the development of smoking cannabis in chillums and pipes, the transference of Indra’s Soma to Shiva’s bhang, did not happen quickly, but rather over more than a dozen centuries, as is indicated by 10th to 14th century Indian references to Indrasana, or Indra’s hemp. With the time frames involved there is little wonder that much of the awareness of the switch faded beyond memory.
Vijaya: victory is mine
Crowley makes some particularly spurious claims in reference to The Samudra Manthana, ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ a myth about the elixir amrita, a name that has been identified as indicating soma by a variety of researchers (and a point of agreement between Crowley and I). This ancient myth is still celebrated in the largest continual human gathering on the planet, the Kumbh Mela, where countless Sadhus can be observed smoking Ganja in honour of Lord Shiva, the hero of the tale. The Kumbh Mela takes place at one of several spots every few years, and these sites are where drops of the heavenly amrita are said to have fallen to the earth as it was being rescued from the clutches of the demons, and as we shall see, earlier historians of Indian culture, have noted that cannabis was said to have first sprouted from the drops of the elixir amrita. Because of the victory in saving the amrita from the demons, cannabis was dubbed vijaya, Victory, and in this sense, seen as the earthly counterpart of the elixir of the Gods amrita..
Crowley writes about the Victory of the Aryan Gods, in winning the elixir, amrita, from the demons in the myth:
…. [The] elixir which the Aryan “gods” won from the indigenous asuras may have been Psiloscybe cubensis… To this day, vijaya is the name of a psychoactive sacrament in Hindu tantra but, in modern versions of the rites, it is taken to mean cannabis. (Crowley, 2019)
Now, it is clear that Crowley stands alone in his interpretation of psilocybe here, except for perhaps the cabal of spurious fungi friends he has around him, whom I’ll return to in part 2. Crowley never offers any of the sort of corroborative sources he was attempting to dismiss my own work with, as no Indian scholar or Vedic scholar would agree with his crackpot suggestion here. Nowhere does he identify when this switcharoo from mushrooms to cannabis with the term vijaya happened, and this is the sort of unfounded interpretation that really plagues The Secret Drugs of Buddhism. Moreover, the identification of cannabis with vijaya was not something that occurred “in modern versions of the rites” as Crowley pretends with no evidence, but has been explicitly recognized in Indian literature for well over a millennia.
In the Samudra Manthana, the Gods and demons join together to churn the ocean of milk after Vishnu ordered them to prepare the amrita, a sacred substance akin to soma that bestows immortality and vigor, telling them “Do now as I command: cast into the Milky Sea potent herbs, then take Mount Mandara for churning-stick, the serpent Vasuki for rope, and churn the Ocean for the dew of life [amrita]” (Coomaraswamy & Nivedita, 1914). Thus wrapping the huge serpent around the mountain, together they could use it as a giant pestle in order the churn the “potent herbs” they cast into the Ocean of milk and make amrita! Here we see a cosmic account that clearly parallels the use of the mortar and pestle to grind milk and cannabis in order to make the earthly bhang.
As with his confusion around the Sanskrit term sana Crowley again displays his readiness to dismiss the works of previous researchers, and offer his own preposterous suggestion with no evidence. His inability to produce corroborative evidence and references for so many of his claims, stands in the face of the sort of academic rigour his book suggests is lacking in my own work…. I will go over more examples of this in my review of Secret Drugs of Buddhism, which will follow this rebuttal in another article.
Certainly, Crowley would have turned to the same source of authority, he used in an attempt to dismiss my own work wouldn’t he? Apparently not. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, (1872) by Monier Williams notes of the many applications of “Vijaya – Cannabis sativa, or the tops of the plant used as a narcotic” , no mention of mushrooms among the entries on the term, however, although yellow myrobolan is listed as the word can mean both. Context is relevant in interpreting specific references, as we have noted. It should also be pointed out the Soma and cannabis share this term as epithets as well. “Bhanga is… called… vijaya (the victorious)” comparable to vrtraha, ‘victorious’ an epithet of Soma in (RV.1.91.23).
Writing at the end of the 19th century, G. A. Grierson also noted the following early references to cannabis, in his well researched essay ‘On References to the Hemp Plant Occurring in Sanskrit and Hindi Literature’ (1893) “In the commencement of the sixth century we find the first mention of vijaya which I have noted. It is a sacred grass, and probably means here the hemp plant…” Grierson saw the specific origins with the myth of The Churning of the Ocean of Milk:
[Cannabis]… was originally produced, like nectar from the ocean by the churning with Mount Mandara, and inasmuch as it gives victory in the three worlds, it, the delight of the king of the gods, is called vijaya, the victorious. This desire-fulfilling drug was obtained by men on the earth, through desire for the welfare of all people.
….Cir. 1050 A.D. in the eleventh century A.D. In his Cabdacandrika, a medical vocabulary, he gives the following Sanskrit names for bhang:
(1) Vijaya (victorious), (2) Trailokyavijaya (victorious in the three worlds), (3) bhanga, (4) Indracana (Indra’s food), (5) Jaya (victorious).
These names seem to show that its use as an intoxicant was then known. (Grierson, 1893).
Also, Grierson does not note any of the sort confusion around these terms that Crowley suggests. In fact, most scholars agree, and as I have noted as well, it is the myth, where Shiva’s strong association with bhang, likely first originated. The term Trailokyavijaya (victorious in the three worlds) particularly ties it with the heavenly amrita as well. As J. M. Campbell noted over a century ago. “Shiva on fire with the poison churned from the ocean was cooled by bhang” (Campbell, 1894).
According to one account, when nectar was produced from the churning of the ocean, something was wanted to purify the nectar. The deity supplied the want of a nectar-cleanser by creating bhang. This bhang Mahadev [Shiva] made from his own body, and so it is called angaj or body-born. According to another account some nectar dropped to the ground and from the ground the bhang plant sprang. It was because they used this child of nectar or of Mahadev in agreement of religious forms that the seers or Rishis became Siddha or one with the deity. He who despite the example of the Rishis, uses no bhang shall lose his happiness in this life and in the life to come. In the end he shall be cast into hell… He who drinks wisely and according to rule, be he ever so low, even though his body is smeared with human ordure and urine, is Shiva. No god or man is as good as the religious drinker of bhang. The students of the scriptures at Beanres are given bhang before they sit to study. At Benares, Ujjain, the other holy places, the yogis, bairagis, and sanyasis take deep draughts of bhang that they may center there thoughts on the Eternal. (Campbell, 1894)
Bhang’s “power of driving panic influences from near the god has gained for bhang the name of Vijaya, the unbeaten… It is this quality of panic-scaring that makes bhang, the Vijaya or Victorious, specially dear to Mahadev in his character of Tripur, the slayer of the demon Tripurasur. (Campbell, 1894). “Ganja or Indian hemp (Cannabis sativa)… is generally taken in the form of bhanga (also called Indrasana or Vijaya), a drink made from its flowers” (Shukla, 1994).
Crowley refers to the use of the vijaya in Tantric rites, and here as well the general view is that this is a reference to cannabis, but tries to play that mushrooms were what was originally used. Although Shiva the hero of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk is the Lord of Bhang, cannabis appears in offering to a number of other deities such as those dedicated to Shiva’s consort Kali, Goddess of Life and Death. Kali’s cannabis mantra is, “Om, Hrim Ambrosia, that springeth forth from ambrosia, Thou shalt showerest ambrosia, draw ambrosia for me again and again. Bring Kalika within my control. Give success; Svaha” (Avalon, 1913). In Tantric rites, cannabis retained its ancient Vedic epithet of ‘Vijaya’ (Victory). As Arthur Avalon (aka, Sir John Woodroffe) explained: “Vijaya, (victory) used in ceremonies to Kali: That is the narcotic Bhang (hemp)… used in all ceremonies” (Avalon, 1913). Swami Agehananda Bharati reported in Great Tradition and Little Traditions: Indological Investigations in Cultural Anthropology (1978) that he “found the first mention of vijaya as meaning cannabis Indica in the Manjusrlmulakalpa, one of the oldest Buddhist tantric texts ( abt. 300 A. D. )”, a date that places the term a few centuries earlier than most other researchers do. This designation of vijaya as cannabis is common in the works of both Eastern and Western authors on Tantra, whereas a book search on ‘vijaya mushrooms Tantra‘, turns up nothing. Crowley’s suggestion of a connection here, is insulting to the reader’s intelligence, and unsubstantiated by any unbiased source.
Cannabis also appears under the name vijaya in the 13th century text “…[T]he Root of Bliss (Anandakanda)…. [which]has been called ‘the most encyclopaedic work of the entire Hindu alchemical canon’…and although much of the work is derivative of earlier authors, one innovations a long and detailed chapter on cannabis (vijay¯akalpa: i.15.313–499)” (Wujastyk, 2001). Interestingly here, as with The Churning of the Ocean of Milk, we see a connection to soma as well.
[T]he Anandakanda describes rejuvenation treatment based on cannabis. This involves treatment over a long period in a specially constructed hut (kut.i). This procedure is strongly reminiscent of a similar rejuvenation procedure described in the earliest Sanskrit medical literature, one that requires not cannabis but the unknown plant Soma. And that procedure itself echoes a rite of ritual rebirth that dates from the mid-first millennium BC. (Wujastyk, 2001)
The Atharvaveda and Soma’s Kingdom of Herbs
Another point made by Crowley in regards to my book, is that the “most persuasive argument that cannabis was not soma, comes from the Vedas themselves”, and cites the Atharvaveda (cir. 1400 B.C.) where bhang is mentioned (11, 6, 15):
“We tell of the five kingdoms of herbs headed by Soma; may it and kuca grass, and bhanga and barley, and the herb saha release us from anxiety.”
In fact this is an important point, and in my opinion, it is a source of much of the confusion on this issue. As I explained in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, not just cannabis, but rather a variety of plants had been used in the preparation of soma/haoma, and as is indicated by the Satapatha Brahmana, 188.8.131.52-17, the uśana plant and later, various substitutes only became soma after they were consecrated in the Vedic ritual. I would suggest that what we see in this reference in the Atharvaveda, are indications of a variety of plants being used in the ritual, thus they appear under the “Kingdom of Soma”, who besides being the Moon, and the sacramental drink, was also a God.
Barley, which also appears in the Atharvaveda verse, and in the Vedic recipe for soma calls for barley. The soma plant is pressed between stones into a paste which mixed with butter, milk, honey and roasted barley powder is strained through woven cloth (RigVeda 9, 69, 9). As Chakraberty notes of the “kuca grass” [sic](which i am assuming is ‘kustha‘) “the elixir ( amrita Kustha… Haplotaxis auricola…). This Kustha is all healing… This herb is found with Soma (or compared with Soma as an elixir : Sakam somena tishati). It removes all kinds of fevers… and other evils)” (Chakraberty, 1944). For saha possibly Sahadevi – Vernonia cinerea a herb mentioned in the Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia for the treatment of fever, localized swelling, wounds, renal calculi, skin diseases and elephantiasis. These are of course guesses.
From the references is the Satapatha Brahmana as well as the Aitareya Brahmana, it seems clear that various plants came to be used in soma, the origins however were more cannabis based as we have seen in Part 2 of this series. This fits in well with the view of Sarianidi, other researchers. The late British archaeologist Andrew Sherratt wrote: “It seems likely… that the drink described as soma involved the infusion of various plant products known earlier on the steppes, and there is no single answer to the soma question” (Sherratt, 1995). “In the Indian scripture of the AtharvaVeda, the fourth book of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of the Brahman religion (ca 2,000–1,400 BC), bhang (hemp) was identified as one of the five sacred plants of India. Bhang is ‘a sacred grass’ and its use is considered to ‘preserve’ one from disease . . . and prolong the years we have to live.’” (Hanus, 2008). Both of which are qualities of soma. Under the names sana or bhang. cannabis appears under the dominion of the God Soma, and when consecrated, becomes the drink soma.
That there are only four plants in this Atharvaveda reference may also be indication of a special selection of herbs, as Rig Veda 10.97.7 refers to “Herbs rich in Soma, rich in steeds, in nourishments, in strengthening power”, so again an indication that more than one plant was used. However the selection seems specific, as Soma is Lord of all plants. Rig Veda 10.97.18-19 “Of all the many Plants whose King is, Soma, Plants of hundred forms, Thou art the Plant most excellent, prompt to the wish, sweet to the heart. O all ye various Herbs whose King is Soma, that o’erspread the earth, Urged onward by Bṛhaspati, combine your virtue in this Plant” and 10.97.22 “22 With Soma as their Sovran Lord the Plants hold colloquy and say: O King, we save from death the man whose cure a Brahman undertakes”.
Banging on about Bhang
Crowley seemingly dismisses his own view on cannabis being present in the Vedas under the name “bhang” in the Atharvaveda, elsewhere in his discussion: “The word bhanga, which means ‘cannabis’ in Classical Sanskrit, does occur in the Vedas but, as a cognate term in Avestan, it simply means ‘intoxicant,’ so we cannot assume that it had the same meaning in this early date” (Crowley, 2019). Note Crowley cited no reference for this interpretation of the word, and this goes against so much that etymologists and linguists have written about the term. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary records the entry “Bhanga, f. hemp (Cannabis sativa); an intoxicating beverage (or narcotic drug commonly called ‘Bhang’) prepared from the hemp plant”. So, with no source for his use, he jumps Sanskrit and goes to the Avesta for an explanation!
As well, the Avesta includes the term as a medical plant, so that disavows it simply as an intoxicant. cannabis has a long tradition as a veterinarian medicine and the Persian counterpart of the Vedic tradition, the Avestan, records in a creation myth, after the first created Ox is cursed with death and disease by Ahriman, the Zoroastrian Devil, Ahura-Mazda (God) eases its pain with bhang. In Bundahisin 4:20 we read Ahura-Mazda “gave the healing Cannabis, which is what one calls ‘banj’, to the’ Gav’ [Ox] to eat, and rubbed it before her eyes, so that her discomfort, owing to smiting, [sin]and injury, might decrease.” As I noted in Cannabis and the Soma Solution.
“Bhang” as “cannabis” has clearly been the long standing view in regards to the Avesta ; As James Samuelson noted in the 19th century in The History of Drink: “A… very deleterious drink called “banga” is mentioned in the Zend-Avesta… Like the modern bang, referred to… in India, it is believed to have been extracted from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa)” (Samuelson,1880). In the Avesta, Bleek and von Spiegel recorded, “Bana is the Cannabis sativa, Skr. Bhanga” (Bleeck & Spiegel, 1864). As Darmesteter also noted in his translation of The Zend-Avesta; “Banga, is bang or mang, a narcotic made from hemp…” (Darmesteter, 1880).
This designation of mang, bhang as identifying cannabis has also been accepted by a variety of Zoroastrian scholars, such as Dr. Jahanian Daryoush, who refers to bhang in his essay Medicine in Avesta and Ancient Iran: “Bangha (Avesta: bhangh, Sanskrit: bhanga, Persian: Bang, hashish) – It is extracted from the seeds of Canabis Indica (hempseed or Per: shahdaneh) has hallucinating effects. In ancient Iran it was mixed with wine to deliver anesthesia” (Daryoush, 2005). As Parvaneh Pourshariati has also noted more recently in the Decline and Fall of the Sassanian Empire, “mang – a mixture of hemp and wine, with intoxicating properties” (Pourshariati, 2008). Referring to the variation of the ‘b-’ in the Avestan, to the ‘m-’ in the Pahlavian, the authors of the Annual of Armenian Linguistics used the following examples, which also identify hemp with the terms in question, “Zoroastrian Pahl. mang, bang ‘hemp…’” (Cleveland State University, 1987). As also noted by other Zoroastrian scholars; “Bhanga… or mang, a narcotic made from hempseed… the dried leaves and small stalks of Cannabis indica” (Dubash, 1903); “hemp (Av ba gha– Phl. mang)” (De Jong, 1997).
E.J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam 1913-1936, records; BENG, (Sanskr. bhanga, Avest. Banha, Pahl. bang, mang, hemp), strictly the name of various kinds of hemp” (Houtsma, et al., 1987). In reference to Zoroastrian expeditions into the world of the afterlife, Shaul Shaked noted that “The preparation of this journey was done… by administering to the officiant a dose of mang (hemp), mixed with wine” (Shaked, 1999). For a more full discussion of the role of bhanga in the Zoroastrian tradition see ‘The Herb of the Magi: Zoroaster’s Good Narcotic‘.
The more general view is that both the Sanskrit and Avestan words for cannabis ‘bhang‘ and ‘bhanga‘ developed from an earlier Indo-European root for the word. As Alphonse de Candolle noted in Origin of Cultivated Plants, “It has Sanskrit names, bhanga and gangika. The root of the word ang or an, recurs in all the Indo-European and modern Semitic languages: bang in Hindu and Persian, ganga in Bengali, hanf in German, hemp in English, chanvre in French, kanas in Keltic and modern Breton, cannabis in Greek and Latin, cannab in Arabic” (de Candolle, 1886). As noted in The India Hemp Drugs Commission Report “Indeed, the intimate relationship of its various Asiatic names to the Sanskrit bhanga would seem to fix the ancestral home of the plant somewhere in Central Asia” (1894).
Likewise, the modern term “cannabis” comes from an ancient Proto- Indo-European root word, “kanap”; the “an” from this root is believed to have left traces in many modern terms for cannabis, such as French “chanvre”, German “hanf”, Indian “bhang”, Dutch “Canvas”, Greek “Kannabis,” etc. Michael Witzel, The Home of the Aryans suggests an ultimate derivation of both *kana and *bhang from the language(s) of the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex, which was discussed above. So the term bhang, is largely seen as the offspring for the same ancient language root for a variety of cannabis names in various offshoot languages, ‘kanap’. So in one sanskrit instance Crowley says the term means “intoxicant” and another specifically “cannabis” with little in way of explanation as to how both are correct. Also, the term bhang does occur in the Vedas, and in relation to soma as we shall see.
However, to be fair, some scholars have noted that in later times, through an association of intoxication through cannabis, the term ‘bhang’ was used in some cases to designate ‘intoxication, and various intoxicants, but this was in no way the general use of the term.
Crowley also states that, “the word never occurs in connection with soma, its identity is not germane to the identity of this sacrament” (Crowley, 2019). Again in A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872) by Monier Williams, which Crowley himself sites in his critique of my own work, (so he would agree on its ‘authority’), we read “Bhanga… an epithet of Soma…, f. hemp (Cannabis Saliva)… an intoxicating beverage prepared from the hemp plant“. Indian Antiquary, Volume 2 (1874) records:
The use of hemp in the preparation of intoxicating liquors… ascends probably to the Aryan period, partly because bhanga is used in the Rik. [Rigveda] IX. 61, 13 as an epithet of the intoxicating soma, and partly because lexicographers use bhanga to denote hemp and beverages… prepared from it. Comp. also Vend. IX 138, Yesht XXIV. 26. (Indian Antiquary, 1874).
As noted in Vedic Index of Names and Subjects (1995). “In the Rigveda (IX.61.13) (bhanga) is an epithet of Soma, presumably in the sense of ‘intoxicating’ which then came to designate hemp” (MacDonell & Kieth, 1958). Perhaps this “presumably” offered suggestion is the basis for Crowley’s identification of the term. I could offer more examples on this, but this is enough to show that Crowley’s comments here are plainly wrong. Again, as this is all clearly laid out in my book, it seems intentional that Crowley leaves it out of the discussion in reference to “bhang” ever being associated with “soma” in the Vedas.
It should be noted that some sources translate the term ‘bhang‘ in Rigveda IX.61.13, as meaning ‘breaking’, which has been suggested as a potential etymology of the word, and this goes against the more general etymological view that it developed like many Indo-European language words for cannabis, out of ‘kanap’. The suggestion here is that the name comes from the same root as ‘bang’ and makes reference to the way the plant was crushed for use, and this is similar to the manner of the preparation of soma in the Vedas, (note the colours and description’s of soma, not a mushroom!) Note the references to what the tranaltor described as the “the stones used for bruising the soma plant, and so extracting the sap”:
Rig Veda 10.8.4 (Wilson’s 1928 translation)
Let these (stones) speak…. Ye solid, quick moving stones, you utter the noise of praise… full of the Soma juice.
They roar like a hundred, like a thousand men; they cry aloud with green-tinted faces; obtaining the sacrifice, the pious stones… partake of the sacrificial food…
They speak, they received into their mouth the sweet (Soma juice)…chewing the branch of the purple tree, the voracious bulls have bellowed.
Splitting, but unsplit, you, O stones… enjoying the Soma, flowing green (with Soma), they made heaven and earth resound with their clamour.
The stones proclaim it with their clamour at the issue of the Soma-juice,… like cultivators sowing the seed, they devouring the Soma, mix it, and do not hurt it.
….Proclaim the praise of (the stone), which has effused (the Soma-juice); let the honoured stones revolve.
However, the use of the term ‘bhang’ in the Atharvaveda, makes clear the Vedic designation of the term as a plant. Others, such as Flattery and Schwartz, have acknowledged this, but disputed the general view of a description of a medical plant, and instead say what is indicated, is simply the use of fibre in a talisman; “due to its use as a traditional means of binding… it is also a means of fastening amulets,” which, in the view of this duo, negates the reference to the plant’s use as a medicine against anxiety as described in the Atharvaveda.
Flattery & Schwartz also refer to Rigveda IX.61.13 that makes direct reference to bhang as an epithet of Soma, sharing the etymological view that bhang originally meant “smashing, breaking through,” but then continue with the statement that this “the fact that bhanga occurs with regard to soma only in a single, contextually conditioned passage makes a connection questionable. In any event, it can be concluded that bhanga, as either as a name of hemp or an epithet of soma, is independent of psychotropic reference” (Flattery & Schwartz, 1989). And as confirmation of this point Flattery and Schwartz claim that “there is no evidence for its [cannabis’] use as an intoxicant… before well within the Islamic era” (Flattery & Schwartz, 1989). Which is just nonsense, and has been proven by numerous archeological discoveries and historical accounts. I have given further criticisms of Haoma and Harmaline in my own book Cannabis and the Soma Solution, and I will be going over those issues in a later article in this series. As others have noted on this:
The dismissal of hemp, as being purely used for fiber or “binding” and not burning, would seem to contradict the meticulous research of Flattery… That a culture obsessed with psychoactive plants and fire rituals would be ignorant of Cannabis as either a fuel or entheogen would seem patently absurd, especially as it is mentioned explicitly in the Atharva-Veda in the context of Soma, and has an ancient use in the region… (Dannaway, 2009)
However in this regard its worth noting that Vedic and other references do indicate Soma’s fibrous qualities “The restless Soma–you try to grab him but he breaks away and overpowers everything. He is a sage and seer inspired by poetry. He covers the naked and heals all who are sick. The blind man sees; the lame man steps forth” (Rg Veda 8:79). A description that certainly does hold connotations of medicinal, fibrous, and psychoactive properties. Another Vedic verse on soma has been referred to by earlier researchers in reference to the fibrous qualities of cannabis: “In the Sukla Yajurveda (IV.10), mekhala, the girdle, is described as ‘tying the knot of Soma.’ Is this an implication that the Soma plant had the same fibrous qualities as the hemp plant?” (Merlin, 1972). “In the Avesta it was Haoma for whom Ahuramazda first brought the ‘sacred girdle, star-begemmed, woven by the two Spirits’” (Taraporewala, 1926). Also, the following verse has indications of rope in relation to Haoma: “May not Haoma bind you like he bound the villain” (Y.11.7). In A History of Indian Literature, the authors write that:
At the consecration of the Soma-sacrifice the sacrifice ties round his girdle a belt made of hemp and reed-grass with the words “You are the power of Angiras [ancient fire and magic priests]soft like wool; lend me power!” Then he binds a knot in his underclothing and says “you are the knot of soma.” (Winternitz & Srinivasa, 1996)
It would indeed be curious to see a belt woven from mushrooms! The Satapatha Bramana, which we discussed earlier for its potential reference to cannabis (uśana) as the plant used for soma, also refers to the Brahminical thread, in this case called “the Zone”, in a description given of a complicated ceremony. Interestingly, the Satapatha Bramana specifically identifies hemp (sana) as the fibre to be used. “It is made of hemp. Hempen it is in order to be soft”.
Earlier we identified sana and Indrasana with cannabis, through multiple citations, however this still leaves us with that pesky ‘u’ which Mukherjee claimed was a prefix from the Kiratas, and which Crowley justifiably took issue with in his dismissal of uśana. An excellent question, and one I should have addressed more fully in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, however this does give me the opportunity to address new information that helps to answer this question, that has come to light since I wrote my book on soma ten years ago.
Back to that pesky ‘u’
One possibility is, Murkhjee’s theory about the Kiratas is incorrect, and as noted earlier, that the the ‘u’ in uśana simply developed as a means of differentiating a part of the cannabis plant one would use as an intoxicant, from one used as a thread and cloth sana, the Sanskrit name for cannabis, and which appears in the Satapatha Brahamana used as a fibre, alongside uśana which in the same text is used for making soma. Perhaps this designation never took root outside the Satapatha Brahamana in favour of other names, such as bhang, and in the over a millennia that has passed since the composition of this ancient text, the meaning and the reasoning behind this ‘u’ could have been lost, and now we are left with this confusion. Either way, to make his case, for both uśana and Indrasana it is clear that Crowley left out all references to sana being an established Sanskrit name for hemp, in a lowball effort to discredit my work.
But let us consider the implication as Murkhjee suggested that the term originated in Tibet. First of all, Crowley’s description of the term Kiratas, is rather narrow by most standards, ” a Tibeto-Burman tongue spoken by an isolated community in the easter Himilayas… if Murkherjee’s hypothesis were correct, as this would be the only word adopted by Sanskrit by the remote, non-Indo-European language, he is obliged to explain how this happened for his hypothesis to be remotely credible.” (Crowley, 2019). A more general view of the Kiratas is that its a generic term found in Sanskrit literature referring to people who had territory in the mountains, particularly in the Himalayas and Northeast India and who are believed to have been Sino-Tibetan in origin. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary refers to the meaning of ‘Kirata’ as “a barbarous mountain tribe of hunters” ‘ while other scholars have identified a more respectable meanings for Kirata, and suggest it refers to people with the lion’s character, or mountain dwellers.
Mukherjee also notes that soma’s “habitat is Mujavan”. ‘The name is important in the light of the search for good soma, for example on the Mūjavant mountain, which appears in Mbh, with popular etymology, as Muñjavant” (Witzel, 1999). The RgVeda describes soma explicitly as parvatiivrdh or ‘mountain grown’. It uses the term Soma Maujavata, ‘the Soma from Mujavat’.
The best Soma, maujavata-, is supposed to come from the mūjavant mountain, “having mūja/Mūja (people)”. This can be compared to Avestan, Muža… the present name Munjån, an area north of the Hindukush, perhaps even the modern Turkish name Muz Tagh Ata ‘Ice Mountain-Father’ for the mountain range dividing Tajikistan and China (Hsinkiang). (Witzel, 1999)
The Hindu-Kush Mountains identified as being near the source of the “best Soma” are also thought to be the homeland of the resinous Cannabis indica, however, as I described in my book, and more recently ‘The Cannabis Soma Theory’, China plays an important role as well in this regard.
Between India and China stands Tibet, which was on the Silk Road, on which, atravelled high grade cannabis from China, which was being cultivated by the Indo-European Jushi (or Gushi) culture that were living in the Tian Shan mountains and the Tarim Basin, from about 2,000 BCE to 400 BCE, when they were chased out by the Han Chinese. A situation explored in The Cannabis Soma Theory and which explains so much about the origins of soma/haoma, as well as its disappearance.
However, before continuing on that thread, I think in light of his books and his criticisms, Crowley was and is obligated to oblige a thorough explanation of how the term soma, became so conflated with the name for cannabis in Tibet. Murkherjee noted the use of the terms similar to “soma” in the names for cannabis in the languages of the Tibetans, “somarasta”: and the Tanguts, “dschoma”. A connection that has been noted by a variety of other sources, and Crowley himself has referred to this, in an earlier article:
In passing it may be worth mentioning that the Tibetan word for Cannabis and its drug products is So.Ma.Ra.Dza. This appears to be a direct borrowing from the Sanskrit soma-raja (Eng.: “King soma”, “Royal soma”). The term soma-raja is glossed as “king soma, the moon” in Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary although the Rig Veda, in its hymns of praise to the drug, refers to it frequently as “King soma” (8.48.8, 8.79.8 etc.) [O’Flaherty, pp. 121, 135, et passim.]. It would thus appear that either Cannabis was used as a soma-substitute or that the identification of soma with psychoactive plants in general was once recognized in India and that this tradition is preserved in Tibet. (Crowley, 1996).
However, this all changes in The Secret Drugs of Buddhism, here Crowley writes that:
The Tibetan word for cannabis is soma-razda, a borrowing of the Sanskrit somaraja (‘Royal Soma’). Bennett, sees this as clear evidence that the Vedic soma was cannabis. However, when translating Sanskrit texts into Tibetan, soma is always rendered as chong-zhi, the name of a medical substance in Tibetan pharmacopeias (Crowley, 2019).
Crowley, as he often fails to do, offers no citation for this last claim, and anyone who searches books for references to “chong-zhi soma” will find it is in no way a common translation. Crowley here assumes the ancient translators follow the rule of the modern Tibetan druggist, which is just rubbish, as we shall see. Moreover, we are talking about a root word here. He needs to go back to when this term originated and made its way into the Tibetan language to identify this, which he did not even make an attempt at. Crowley even qualifies his statement with the comment “Tibet also has two psychoactive plants known as soma-razda (Skt. soma-raja, “royal soma“), to wit Cannabis indica and Psoralea corylifolia” (Crowley, 2019). So here Crowley negates his own negation of the translation of chong-zhi, with soma, taking the cannabis name, soma-razda, back to a Sanskrit reference to ‘royal soma’. As we shall also see, the source that Crowley lists for Psoralea corylifolia does not make this connection, to soma-razda but lists the plant under the similar name soma raji.
Crowley footnoted a reference to soma-razda to a comment on myself, with the statement, saying I cited him regarding the identity of soma in this respect, and denies he made any such statement. First of all, I nowhere say the Tibetan references to soma-razda are “clear evidence that the Vedic soma was cannabis”, as Crowley writes. My position was that this was more evidence that cannabis was soma, to go along with the plethora of evidence I used to make my case. In regards to Crowley’s claim I misrepresented his work, this is the only single reference to Crowley’s work, in my book, and it was a direct quote from his, which I made no direct comment to –
“[T]he Tibetan word for Cannabis and its drug products is So.Ma.Ra.Dza. This appears to be a direct borrowing from the Sanskrit soma-raja (Eng.: ‘King soma’, ‘Royal soma’). The term soma-raja is glossed as ‘king soma, the moon’ in Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary although the Rig Veda, in its hymns of praise to the drug, refers to it frequently as ‘King soma’ (8.48.8, 8.79.8 etc.)” (Crowley, 1996).
So again, we can see the level of dishonesty that Crowley is capable of stooping to, to discredit my work and prop up his own. In The Secret Drugs of Buddhism Crowley goes on to say of “soma radza. This is simply a Tibetan pronunciation of somajara (‘royal soma’). But some how, in Tibetan, soma razda, has acquired two meanings. It can mean either Cannabis indica or Psoralea corylifolia” (Crowley, 2019). Crowley lists only the Illustrated materia medica of Indo-Tibetan medicine (1987) for this claim, and when I looked through it, the terms “so ma ra tsa” and “soma raji” are what appear under for Psoralea corylifolia, which begs explanation from Crowley! However the soma related names Somaraji and Somavalli to appear in association with Psoralea corylifolia. I could find no sources that agreed with Crowley’s identification of soma razda with Psoralea corylifolia, not even in the very reference he cited! Did Crowley mistake an “i” for an “a” between soma raji and soma radza or was he misrepresenting facts in order to prop up his case, and make me look like a sloppy researcher?
The English Tibetan Colloquial Dictionary (1998) lists so-ma ra-tsa for hemp A A Tibetan-English Dictionary (2003) lists “so-ma”, as a name for hemp. The New Tibetan-English Dictionary of Modern Tibetan (2001) lists hemp, jute and flax, under soma razda, all fibre plants, but this designation could be explained by an association between fibre and hemp, and thus the name applied to other fibre plants, and this has happened with the name ‘hemp’ itself, with Manilla Hemp, which is not a cannabis species. We see both cannabis and flax under so ma ra dza as well on the English Tibetan Dictionary Online. Revival: A Tibetan-English Dictionary (1934), repeating A Tibetan-English Dictionary, with Special Reference to the Prevailing Dialects (1881) lists the following cannabis related variations of the term:
so-ma: 1. Ssk (prop. a climbing plant the juice of which was offered in libations to the gods and was also worshipped itself, on account of its intoxicating properties, hence) hemp… so-ma-ra-dza…. hemp linen… so-ma-ra-dzai tag pa… hempen rope… so-ma nan-na zer gos…”.
A Dictionary of Tibetan Materia Medica (1998) by Dr. Pa-saṅs-yon-tan, identifies “so ma ras rgyu:… Cannabis sativa L.. The resin of Cannabis sativa L., also called bhangam sa na, is said to restore physical strength and be an elixir in the text Sgrol ma bla med rgyud.”
As Helsinki researcher Pentti Aalto has also noted: “…[I]n Tibetan the hemp is, according to the lexica, so ma, so ma raja or zla ba (=Moon, since in India Soma as a god was identified with the Moon)… [and]other synonymous names,… root shoot of the moon… ‘the king (?) of the Moon’” (Aalto, 1998). The Rangjung Yeshe Tibetan-English Dharma Dictionary (2003) lists the following regarding cannabis and other potentially related words under “so ma”:…
so ma – genuine, naturalness, no bias in its naturalness… new, climbing plant whose juice was offered to the gods and Hindus worshipped for intoxicating qualities, fresh, freshness [JV]
so ma – hemp; freshness; fresh, freshness Syn naturalness, [present awareness], brand new.
so ma ra tsa’i ngan thag – hashish [JV]
so ma ra rtsa – hemp [JV]
so ma ra tsha – hemp, marijuana, flax, jute [IW]
so ma ra dza – flax cannabis sativa l. [JV]
so ma rwa dza – datura stramonium l. [JV] [likely included through the sense of its intoxicating properties]
Tibetan Medicine, Issue 11, (1988) states that so-ma-ra-dza “applies to either Cannabis sativa or to Abutilon theophrasti, means ‘essence of soma’”. A description that gets at the close connection, if not identification with Soma. The Quintessence Tantras of Tibetan Medicine (1995) begins a section with “so.ma.ra.za. Cannabis medica“. Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Volume 6 (1996) “The Tibetan name for cannabis, So.Ma.Ra.Dza, from the Sanskrit soma-raja, or ‘king of soma’ can now be read as a linguistic trace of a long-forgotten tradition” i.e. the Vedic soma tradition.
Now, in regards to that last statement, you would think that cannabis’ long term association with the name soma in Tibet, would require more of an explanation than a single ‘u’ added to an already known term for cannabis sana. But Crowley just leaves his explanation at that, as it would seemingly have destroyed much of his own hypothesis if he had struggled to identify the origins of this association with cannabis and soma, which i would suggest, may be tied up with this alleged Tibetan ‘u’ in uśana. But before continuing on with the many references to cannabis and other drugs, Crowley left out, or only glossed over in Tibetan Buddhism.
Back on the Soma Trail…..
Now, to get a better idea about the relationship between Tibetans and soma radza, to see how they viewed this association, lets take a look at the account of the Tibetan author Gendun Chopel (1903–1951) who spent years travelling between Tibet and India, collecting accounts from the people he met there studying their history and traditions, detailed in Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler (2014):
Regarding their sacrificial rites, a fire is lit in front. In it foods are burned, from flour and clarified butter to betel leaves, in a sequence that accords with that of [food offered]to a guest. Meanwhile, verses are sung. One drinks the soma juice and offers it to the gods as well. What they call somaraja is a type of plant that also grows in Tibet and from whose bark one is able to spin thread. Its juice is squeezed out and mixed; it has intoxicating properties. It is called somaraja “king of the moon”. In Tibetan, it is [known]in the degenerated form [soma radza]. In the Laghutantra in describing brahmin’s rites, it says, “the drink of somavalli“; that is this [drink]. It is also referred to in the Tarkajvala and many tantras as the “moon drink”. This making of offerings by burning them in fire, like the burning of incense in Bon, is a tradition that emerged in ancient times in all countries. (Chopel, 2014).
Although Chopel does not identify the fibre plant the intoxicating soma drink described was derived from, the Tibetan names make it clear this was cannabis and this account drives more home the strong association of cannabis with the actual soma in the minds of the people there. So to be clear, unlike psychedelic mushrooms, cannabis has a long and established history in Tibet and this includes a long association there with the soma related names for cannabis, the origins of which Crowley failed to look into or address. This long history is not so surprising as the species cannabis itself, is thought to have evolved on the Tibetan Plateau, so no question it was present and available.
As well that cannabis could have made its way from this region, or through it is also established, by what we know about the Silk Road , it travelled through at least two diverse channels through Tibet. Thus sana from here could conceivably have picked up a ‘u’, here, perhaps even identifying it as coming from the region. Even in the Vedas soma is described as a mountain plant and cannabis indica is thought to have originated not far from this area as well. Further, we now have multiple examples that high quality THC rich cannabis was in fact being grown on the other side of Tibet, China, by Indo European settlers who were in the Tian Shan Mountains, and both growing it and exporting it to places like the Bacrtria Margiana Archeological Complex (BMAC), and India. According to ancient texts, one of the controversies around soma that led to its prohibition was not only the high cost of the Vedic rituals that were demanded to bless it, but also of the cost of importation. In this regard, beyond this ‘u’ coming from Tibet into Sanskrit, the hypothesis I lay out in The Cannabis Soma Theory is that the very names Soma and Haoma, themselves derive from a Chinese term for the more potent varieties such as huo ma ! As this is something I lay out quite succinctly in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, I am surprised Crowley did not understand the route…..
In the next article in this series, I will show that the same sort of careless scholarship in Crowley’s critique of my own work, is the basis of his own, and that unquestioningly accepting the work of R. Gordon Wasson, comes with severe consequences for his spurious book, Secret Drugs of Buddhism.