‘Secret Drugs of Buddhism’, Soma, and the Sad State of Entheogenic Anthropology
CANNABIS CULTURE – In Secret Drugs of Buddhism, Mike Crowley claims the covert survival of the Vedic Soma tradition in Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as other use of psychedelic mushrooms. But is Crowley’s research credible?
Moreover, there is a whole field emerging in the area of Entheogenic History, but can much of it be taken seriously? Or does it in some ways reflect what happened with academic studies of parapsychology decades ago? This is Part 5 In a series on the identity of the Vedic soma and Avestan haoma, entheogenic potions that inspired ancient religions.
Other articles in this series thus far include:
In part 4 of this series I responded to a variety of criticisms about The Cannabis Soma Theory from Mike Crowley’s Secret Drugs of Buddhism, and addressed every point he made in that regard. As well I gave examples of some of the questionable attempts he made to discredit my work. Now it is my turn to review the work of Mr. Crowley.
This article will examine some of the rather unsupported claims Crowley makes about the use of psychedelic mushrooms, in Tibetan Buddhism and his questionable ethics as a writer and researcher. Sadly, as I wrote this article, I had to acknowledge this sort of crank scholarship, goes far beyond Mike Crowley, and it is an issue that myself and other authors, have had to address. I will also take a look at that and some of the entrenched beliefs in that field that have little to do with actual history or science that should be the focus.
I’ve been aware of these issues for sometime, but due to decorum, and friendship with some of those involved, I’ve been limited in my criticism. However, the issue has really put me off speaking at psychedelic conferences and things, as so many of the speakers fall into this category in my mind, and I am not sure it is progressive to what I am doing to get pigeon holed with that.
In this regard, I want to emphasize, there is no disrespect for the sacred mushroom, and the very real traditions that have existed around their use. There is lots of that history that has been documented by more legitimate researchers. The use of sacred mushrooms in both North and South America is well established, the use by Siberian Shamans of the fly-agaric goes without question, and there is intriguing cave paintings and petroglyphs that I do think indicate their prehistoric use.
However, as shown in Part 3 of this series, The Mushroom Soma Theory: A Critical Analysis the material that props up the mushrooms identification with soma, is easily dismissible by anyone who has even a basic understanding of the Vedas. The identification of the fly-agaric with soma, has to do more with the omissions from the Vedas, than even the misapplication of the Vedic moon imagery associated with the God Soma, instead here attempted to be attributed to the plant soma, which is the basis for this nonsense.
R. Gordan Wasson’s Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality (1968), serves as an unquestioned basis for Mike Crowley’s own identification of the mushroom as soma. Crowley even uses the translations that were specifically worked for Wasson’s uses in his book, instead of the many legitimate and unbiased translations that have been published. This is the shaky ground upon which not only Crowley’s work sits, but that of so many other authors who have built upon Wasson’s work as Crowley has. Its time for this theory and all that has been built upon it to crumble, so that the true Soma might once again flow.
Crowley also builds upon the work of other spurious authors, such as Clark Heinrich, author of Magic Mushrooms in Religion and Alchemy (2002) whose laughable theory that the Hindu god Shiva was a fly-agaric mushroom, inspired Crowley to expand on it. It is this sort of thing, where these researchers quote each other as though what was written was established fact, and leave it unquestioned by critical thinking, that has me addressing the wider issue later on in this article. In fact, a special edition on entheogens of what is purported to be a leading academic compendium on this subject, the Journal of Psychedelic Studies, is chalked full of this entrenched mushroom mania.
A big part of Mike Crowley’s main thesis is that the theorized fly-agaric Vedic soma cult survived secretly in Buddhism. My view is that although drugs came to play a role in branches of Tantric and Tibetan Buddhism, this was a much later development.
In this regard, it should be noted that a number of Indian authors have seen the rise of Buddhism, at the core of the loss of soma’s identity as well as the source of the prohibition of alcohol and other in intoxicants. In The RgVedic Soma, the Vedic scholar Dr. N.R. Waradpande, who identified cannabis as the ancient sacred drink, felt that the loss of the knowledge of Soma’s identity came through the decline of the Vedic ritual, the Yajna, which came occurred through the influence and development of Buddhism. Sacrifices continued in the Vedic mode, but this was far different from the Yajna being in common practice (Waradpande, 1995). This is a view that has been shared by other scholars as well. Buddhist prohibitions, and the suppression of the Soma cult was also noted by Badrul Hassan, some decades earlier, in his 1922 edition of The Drink and Drug Evil in India. This situation is addressed more thoroughly in The Cannabis Soma Theory.
The basis of Crowley’s view on the Secret Drugs of Buddhism, is based largely around novel visual interpretations of both myth and iconography, which virtually converts almost anything to a mushroom, the ritualized and medicinal consumption of urine is seen over and over as evidence of fly-agaric use, and actual references to the use of psychoactive substances in these traditions, in known forms such cannabis and datura, are curiously pointed to over and over as also indicating the imagined likely hood of the use of mushrooms as well.
The Stream of Transmission…
A mode of this transmission of Wasson’s soma theory, makes its way into Crowley’s Buddhist theory, through accounts of urine drinking, which as discussed in part 3, was one of the looser and unsupported aspects of Wasson’s soma theory. The psychoactive chemicals of the fly-agaric mushroom Wasson saw as soma, can be passed on via the urine. Wasson pointed to Rig Veda 9.74.4, a verse that his translator, and one earlier French source, saw as indicating the ‘pissing’ of soma. Other translators have seen this as ‘rain’. There are no indications of the drinking of this urine in the Vedas, so Wasson jumps ahead many centuries to an account in the Mahabharata, when the god Indra, disguised as an outcaste, gives the hero Uttanka, amrita (ambrosia), to drink in the form of urine, which was duly rejected.
Now, note in regard of this time frame, that Wasson disallowed the 10th Mandala of the Rig veda, and most of the Avesta accounts, which both have descriptions of the plants soma and haoma, with the claim that by the time these texts were written down, with the claim that by the time these Vedic texts were composed the identity of soma had been lost. However these were written centuries before the Mahabharata, yet this is where Wasson, and thus Crowley after him, both turn for proof of the ritual drinking of psychoactive urine. Crowley takes this even further away in history with another example of this he proposes, that appears in another tradition altogether, one that rose out of a rejection of the Vedas! Buddhism.
This is the sort of thing I meant by, Wasson’s theory is based more on omissions than what is actually written about soma in the Vedas. There are no accounts of ritual soma drinking on the Vedas, so to make the claim there was, Wasson jumps centuries ahead to an unrelated text that has an account of it, long after the time he claims the identity of soma was lost.
Crowley takes this even further with the claim that an even newer “Tibetan myth may help solve the riddle of soma, sacred drug of ancient India“, a theory he has been sporting for decades, in regards to a myth in which a bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism, Vajrapani, drinks urine. The legend is drawn from the Dri Med Zhel Phreng, ‘The Immaculate Crystal Garland’, which is a Tibetan recast of the Hindu myth the Samudra Manthan, ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’. This account is known as ‘The legend about Chakdor’
Once upon a time the Buddhas all met together on the top of Mount Meru, to deliberate upon the means of procuring the water of life, Dutsi, which lies concealed at the bottom of the deep ocean. In their benevolence, they intended, as soon as they obtained the water of life, to distribute it amongst the human race as a powerful antidote against the strong poison Hala, which the evil demons, at this period, had been using with such mischievous effect against mankind.
In order to procure the antidote they determined to churn the ocean with the mountain Meru, and so cause the water of life to rise to the surface of the sea. This they did, and delivered the water of life to Vajrapani, with orders to secure it safely until a future meeting, when they would impart it to living beings. But the monster Rahu, a Lhamayin, happened to hear of this precious discovery, and having carefully watched Vajrapani’s movements, seized an opportunity, in the absence of the latter, to drink the water of life; not satisfied with this act, he even voided his water deliberately into the vessel. He then hurried away as fast as possible, and had already proceeded a great distance, when Vajrapani came home, and having perceived the theft, instantly set out in pursuit of the culprit.
In the course of his flight Rahu had passed the sun and moon, whom he menaced with vengeance, should they venture to betray him to Vajrapani. His searches proving fruitless, Vajrapani betook himself to the sun, and asked him about Rahu. But the sun replied evasively, saying that he had certainly seen somebody passing a long time ago, but had paid no particular attention as to who it was. The moon, on the other hand, returned a candid answer, only requesting that Vajrapani would not repeat it before Rahu. Upon this information Rahu was shortly afterwards overtaken, when he got such a terrible blow from Vajrapani’s scepter [i.e. vajra] that, besides receiving many wounds, his body was split in two parts, the lower part of the body with the legs being entirely blown off.
The Buddhas once more held a meeting, in which they deliberated upon the best means of disposing of Rahu’s urine. To pour it out would have been most dangerous to human beings, as it contained a large quantity of the poison Hala hala; they therefore determined that Vajrapani should drink it, in just punishment for the carelessness through which the water of life was lost. Accordingly he was forced to do so, when his fair, yellow complexion was changed by the effects of this potion into a dark one. Vajrapani conceived, from his transfiguration, a most violent rage against all evil demons, and in particular against Rahu, who, notwithstanding his deadly wounds, was prevented from dying by the water of life. This powerful water, however, dropped from his wounds and fell all over the world, numerous medicinal herbs springing up on the spots where it touched the soil.
A severe punishment was also inflicted upon Rahu by the Buddhas themselves; they made a horrible monster of him, replaced his legs by the tail of a dragon, formed nine different heads from his broken one, the principal wounds were made into an enormous throat, and the lesser ones into so many eyes. Rahu, who had ever distinguished himself from his fellow-beings by his wickedness – in their earliest youth even the other gods had to suffer from his malignity – became, after this transformation, more dreadful than he was before.
His rage was turned especially towards the sun and the moon, who had betrayed him. He is constantly trying to devour them, particularly the moon, who displayed the most hostile disposition towards him. He overshadows them whilst trying to devour them, and thus causes eclipses; but owing to Vajrapani’s unceasing vigilance, he cannot succeed in destroying them.
As Crowley explains of this, in his article ‘When the Gods Drank Urine‘
…we turn to the oddest, and yet most crucial, element of the Vajrapani myth: he drinks Rahu’s urine and, as a result becomes terrifying, blue and adorned with snakes. Here we have our sought-for connection between soma (albeit under the synonym bDud.rTsi) and urine-drinking.
….So, given the context in which Vajrapani drinks the urine of one has just drunk a powerfully inebriating potion, we should strongly suspect that Amanita muscaria is implicated. In the light of Wasson’s contention that soma was A. muscaria, the urine-drinking element of “The Legend About Chakdor” assumes considerable significance.(Crowley, 1996)
Well that does actually not sound like the effects of the awe inspiring soma at all, as the description is not blissful but wrathful. The connection here is to an earlier myth that has the god Shiva drinking the poison that appeared before the amrita through The Churning of the Ocean of Milk in the Samudra Manthan. This act of self sacrifice saved humanity, but also turned Shiva’s throat blue, which has Crowley also claim Shiva represents psilocybin mushrooms, in the Hindu counterpart of this myth, as we shall see!
The significance of pissing in the ritual cup, rather than transmitting Wasson’s “second form” of soma, in the Tibetan story, likely goes back to the idea, that any human bodily fluid contaminated the ritual cup. The Sacred Laws of the Aryas, (450 BC) records that “the sacrificial cup (kamasa) is declared to be pure on account of its contact with the Soma juice.” This purity was ruined by contact with urine, “at all soma-sacrifices (the cups must be) cleaned with water only… If these same (cups are defiled) by urine, ordure, blood, semen and the like (they must be) thrown away.” A situation that would be hard to reconcile with Wasson’s concept of divine Soma enriched piss.
Crowley does make an important point about drug infused urine in his 1996 article that I was not able to find in his 2019 book.
Despite the fact that urine-drinking is an integral part of Siberian Amanita muscaria consumption we should not take this practice, in itself, to indicate the use of A. muscaria without further substantiating factors. After all, many people in modern India drink their own urine purely for health reasons. However, it should be clearly understood that, of all known drugs in use worldwide, only A. muscaria has the practice of urine-drinking associated with it as a cultural norm. This practice has its basis in the fact that, due to the highly inefficient conversion of ibotenic acid into muscimole within the body, the urine of one who has ingested A. muscaria is almost as potent a drug as the mushroom itself. Moreover, ibotenic acid is found only in the A. muscaria mushroom and in a very similar species called A. pantherina. Among psychoactive mushrooms, this property is unique to A. muscaria. Thus, if one were to drink the urine of someone who has just ingested, say, a mushroom which contains psilocybin, its drug effect would not be passed on to the urine-drinker.
It should be borne in mind that, while psychoactive plants which share this property of passing useable amounts of its drug into the user’s urine are relatively rare, they do exist. Amanita muscaria is not unique in this regard. There are, for instance, several species of cactus which contain mescaline. However, despite the fact that about 80% of ingested mescaline is excreted with the urine, there have been no reports of urine-drinking associated with the peyote (Anhalonium lewinii) cults of North America nor with the San Pedro (Trichocereus pachanoi) cult of Peru. This is somewhat surprising as urine, even someone else’s, is probably a lot more palatable than the intensely bitter peyote cactus. There are, of course, no Old World plants which contain mescaline. (Crowley, 1996).
Let us consider this further, there are other drugs which can be passed through urine, such as peyote, which if you have ingested you might even consider taking in that way, to avoid the taste and bodily discomfort! But there is no tradition of their use in that way. Now when these guys do look for examples of fly-agaric to make their case, they conviently jump thousands of years ahead to accounts of Siberian Shaman, which began to appear on the historical record around 1700 AD. These Siberian shamans have no notable textual or mythical connection to the Vedic material to be shown in their tradition, other than thousands of years before the Aryans, an advanced ancient culture, were said to believed to have migrated from this region. And then to account for this in relation to soma, unable to find anything in all the Vedic references to soma, that could be twisted into drinking psychoactive soma infused urine, Wasson, and Crowley with him, jumps centuries after the Vedas and ahead to the account of Uttanka and Indra in the Mahabharata. In Secret Drugs of Buddhism Crowley takes us even further along in history, with a much, much later adaption of the Sumudra Manthan in Tibet, and a story of a defiled cup!
The earlier Hindu version of the myth, Sumudra Manthan, ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ played a huge roll in exalting Shiva to the top of the Hindu pantheon. Crowley proposes that in Shiva’s Vedic form, Rudra, which some have translated as ‘red’ this god represents the Amanita muscaria and then later through the Sumudra Manthan, and the God’s drinking of a poison that turned his throat blue, the psilocybin mushroom.
The Churning of the Ocean of Misinformation
Crowley makes some particularly spurious claims in reference to The Samudra Manthana, ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ a myth about the nectar of immortality an elixir known here as amrita. Now the name amrita has been identified as indicating soma by a variety of researchers, in some uses of the word, such as in this case, however, as we shall discuss later, there are other meanings that came to be applied to this term as well.
The Samudra Manthana 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:
…This legend could also be read as a mythologized account of the conflict between the invading Aryans and the indigenous people of India. If this is the case, then the elixir which the Aryan “gods” won from the indigenous asuras may have been Psiloscybe cubensi, a readily available replacement for their vanishingly scarce sacrament, Amanita muscaria. 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)
I swear, its like he just makes this up this shit as he goes along! Crowley not only tries to tie the term vijaya with mushrooms in Tantra and the Samudra Manthana but claims because of the associations above, that since it is used in the other names, such as Usnisavijaya, who is a female Buddha of longevity, this is indicative of the use of psychedelic mushrooms! Lest we forget, the name often plainly means Victory.
A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, (1872) by Monier Williams, whom Crowley turned to in an attempt to dismiss my own work, notes of the many applications of the term “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 noted of vijaya in regards to cannabis, in his well researched essay ‘On References to the Hemp Plant Occurring in Sanskrit and Hindi Literature’ (1893), showing the term in association with cannabis going back 1,400 years. “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…”
….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.
Now, it is clear that Crowley stands alone in his interpretation of psilocybin mushrooms as being identified in the, Samudra Manthana, except for perhaps the cabal of spurious fungi friends he has around him, whom I’ll return to. As well, there is no sort of break in the traditions around this myth, and the identification of vijaya, as with the case of soma. No one has suggested that the identity of vijaya was lost, its purely the unsupported invention of Mike Crowley, as are so many of the claims in Secret Drugs of Buddhism.
Crowley never offers any of the sort of corroborative sources he was attempting to dismiss my own work with in part 4 of this series, as no Indian scholar or Vedic scholar would agree with his crackpot suggestion here. Nowhere does he identify when this switcheroo 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, as noted by numbers of scholars.
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 vigour, 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 well as the ritual preparation of grinding and smashing the stalks of soma and mixing them with barley, honey etc., to make soma as described in the Rig Veda 9:69; 10:94.
As the Gods and demons joined together in churning the Ocean of Milk, various things began to rise out of as a result, first the wish-giving cow, Surabhi, rose out, delighting gods and demons alike, then Varuni, with rolling eyes, the divinity of wine, followed by the Parijata, the fragrant tree of Paradise, then the graceful troops of apsaras. These were followed by the moon, which was grasped by Shiva and placed upon his brow, and then a draught of deadly poison, also taken by Shiva who drank of it, lest it should destroy the world, a selfless act that caused the God to suffer intense pain, but he was unable to die, and this could not be seen by his wife Parvati. She immediately places a hand on his throat, stopping the poison to flow any further, and by her Maya stopped it forever. As a result, his throat turned blue and he was henceforth called Neelakantha (the blue-throated one; “neela” = “blue”, “kantha” = “throat” in Sanskrit).
It is at this point that that Crowley basis his evidence for the God Shiva representing the psilocybin mushroom, because of the blueish colour associated with both. Note the poison Shiva drinks is the least amrita thing that comes out of the whole herb infused Ocean of Milk, and a lot of items were produced! But as it the closest Crolwey could come to tying in a mushroom, was the blue colour of both, he goes for it!
After Shiva drank the poison, then appeared Dhanwantari holding in his hand the vessel of amrita, the dew of life, lighting up the eyes of both the Gods and demons with desire.
The story has it that after the amrita appeared in the Kumbha (urn) the demons attempted to gain control of it and as a result a 12 day battle, equal to twelve earthly years , took place between the Gods and the demons in the heavens. During the battle, the celestial bird, the Garuda, (known for his association with Soma) flew away with the Kumbha of amrita to protect it from the hands of the demons.
When Hinduism emerged to replace Buddhism as the national religion in medieval India, the myth reemerged tying in myth with the reality of the people and their geography. To insure that the precious amrita did not fall into the hands of the demons, the Kumbha (vessel) of nectar was temporarily hidden at four places on the earth – Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik. At each of these places, a drop of the nectar was said to have spilled from the pot and from these drops of this precious water of immortality it is believed that these places acquired mystical power. Kumbha Mela is celebrated at the four places every twelve years for this reason. Ancient tradition has it also that one of the miracles that resulted from the spilling of the amrita was the creation of Hemp.
“[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.” (Grierson, 1893)
With the aid of Vishnu, the Gods finally overcame the demons and eventually gained control of the pot of amrita. Invigorated by the sacred elixir, the Gods were able to drive the demons down to hell and order and prosperity was restored to the three worlds. In honour of their success against the demons the Gods gave cannabis the name Vijaya (“Victory”) to commemorate the event.
The God most closely associated with the collecting of the amrita, was Shiva, and his devotees still partake of cannabis in commemoration of this event to this day. “The votaries of Eudra-Siva are addicted to Cannabis sativa” (Chakbraberty, 1944). “According to the old Hindu poems, God Shiva brought down the hemp plant from the Himalayas and gave it to mankind” (Chopra, 1939). This close association clearly goes back back to the myth of The Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The name of Shiva, 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. The mere sight of bhang, cleanses from as much sin as a thousand horse-sacrifices or a thousand pilgrimages. He who scandalizes the user of bhang shall suffer the torments of hell so long as the sun endures. He who drinks bhang foolishly or for pleasure without religious rites is as guilty as the sinner… of sins. 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.
The Hindu poet of Shiva, the Great Spirit that living in bhang passes into the drinker, sings of bhang as the clearer of ignorance, the giver of knowledge. No gem or jewel can touch in value bhang taken truly and reverently. He who drinks bhang drinks Shiva. The soul in whom the spirit of bhang finds a home glides into the ocean of Being freed from the weary round of matter-blinded self. (Campbell, 1894)
There is nothing to substantiate the idea that Shiva’s blue throat from taking poison in the Churning of the Ocean of milk, ever represented the use of psilocybin containing mushrooms, and Crowley’s whole claim that the term vijaya in Tantra only later came to mean cannabis is equally preposterous. No historical evidence for this claim whatsoever, and its based purely on the blueness of the mushroom and Shiva’s throat!
In fact when coming up with evidence for mushrooms in Tantra, he is likewise dependent on evidence of cannabis for the claim. Crowley refers to the use of a “secret” drug in the text Initiation Ritual of the Fierce Guru, , through a reference to a “nectar” Crowley equates with the amrita, a term which itself is associated with soma. Now there are multiple applications of the term amrita in use in both India and Tibet, sometimes it can be identified with soma, sometimes with intoxicating elixirs, sometimes bodily fluids and sometimes energies in the body relating to the chakras and kundalini. Reading the text myself I get the sense of the sort of references to a ‘nectar’ produced in the body referred to in literature regarding kundalini energy. However even if we go with Crowley’s interpretation of a drug, in order to indicate how such a substance might be applied in a Tantric ritual, with no Indian textual evidence for a mushroom here, he refers to the well established use of bhang in the Tantric ritual of maithuna, noting “but the same principles may well apply here” (Crowley, 2019). That is his basis for a mushroom suggestion, that cannabis was used, and thus mushrooms could have been used….. This is not the only place, that Crowley is largely reliant on cannabis to make his case for the mushroom.
Shiva is a Mushroom?
In regards to Shiva, the Lord of Bhang, Crowley not only claims the blue throat Shiva received from drinking the poison derived from The Churning of the Ocean of Milk, as identifying the blue of a psilocybin mushroom, but also that Lord Shiva’s one legged incarnation Ekapada and his often depicted one legged dance pose as likewise indicating a mushroom stem! Displaying his deep humbleness, Crowley does not take full credit here, and he gives some credit to an equally unscrupulous colleague. “This book was not the first to posit the entheogenic origin of deities… Clark Heinrich, to name but one researcher, pointed out… how Hindu myth describe Rudra/Śiva in terms equally applicable to the Amanita muscaria mushroom. I have merely continued this line of reasoning…” (Crowley, 2019). No serious scholar of the Hindu religion or the Vedas, would take either of these individuals serious, and they are left with propping up each others shabby interpretations of myths and mythological imagery, unable to acquire any corroborative material from experts in these fields. It’s pure hokum, and the following is a classic example of the sort of thing that runs through Crowley’s book:
I put it to you dear reader, that the at the most fundamental level, the real reason Śiva has one leg and blue throat lies not in any mythological scenario but in mycology and a biochemical reaction. Simply put, the Hindu god Siva is an apotheosis of blue staining (i.e., psilocin-rich) psychedelic mushroom, probably Ps cubensis. I admit that on the face of it, this may seem an outrageous assertion, but consider Śiva’s known characteristics (Crowley, 2019):
Now, “dear reader” before giving Crowley’s list of ‘characteristics’, note how many times he relies on references to cannabis, even repeating them, as well as datura and soma, to make his case.
- By tradition, Śiva is associated with drugs in various ways: he is called “a medicine for kine and horses, a medicine for men, a [source of]ease for rams and ewes.”
- As Rudra he is “the first physician”
- Various psychoactive drugs, including Datura (Datura metel; Skt., dhattura) ganja (“marijuana,” Cannabis indica) and bhang.’ are considered sacred to Śiva
- Śiva is said to have consumed huge qualities of cannabis, datura and Nux vomica (the major source of strychnine, a powerful stimulant) before engaging in battle.
- He is the “Lord of Herbs” (Skt. ausadhisvara).
- Offerings of datura flowers and bhang are made to Śiva.
- Śiva acquired a blue throat swallowing the poisonous byproduct of soma, the drug of the gods.
- Śiva is frequently depicted poised on one leg in the tāṇḍavam dance and even has a one legged form…
- Śiva’s vahama (‘vehicle’) and companion is a bull. Named Nandi (“joyous”), this bull is known for his “wide hump” and “single shining horn”.
- Śiva carries “the cup of soma” (i.e. the crescent moon) on the crown of his head.
- Soma was once a common alternative name for Śiva and the literature and oral teachings of the Śaiva sect was known as, somasiddhanta, lierally “the science of soma”.
- The nine main lineages of Śaiva tantra each revere a different form of Śiva. One of these forms is known as Amriteśvara (Lord of Amrita).
- Some Śiva temples are not only mushroom-shaped but are even called “mushroom-like” (Skt. chattraka).
Note that numbers 3, 4 and 6, basically repeat the same point about the traditional use of cannabis, datura and Nux vomica. 1, 2 and 5 could easily be explained by Shiva’s association with cannabis, datura and other medicinal plants, no indication of psychoactive mushrooms in any of that though. Crowley relates that he himself has witnessed “rams and ewes” seeking out and eating psychedelic mushrooms on a hillside in Wales. Which, having been through some of his other claims, is a rather unsatisfying citation, and no mention of what the medical value might be to grazing rams and ewes, other than breaking up the monotony of a life based around grazing… However 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.”
In regards to Shiva, his relationship with cannabis is very old and very well established. The Tirumantiram also known as Thirumantiram by Thirumular is the tenth of the twelve volumes of the Tirumurai, the key texts of Shaiva Siddhanta. It has been dated by some scholars as early as 200 BCE, but others see it as a later work of about 700 AD. Tirumantiram‘s literal meaning is “Sacred mantra” or “Holy incantation”. The Tirumantiram is the earliest known exposition of the Shaiva Agamas in Tamil. It consists of over three thousand verses dealing with various aspects of spirituality, ethics and praise of Shiva. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (2012) notes that “Tirumular sings the praises of marijuana in his Tirumantiram… where cannabis is called ‘Gorakh’s root’”. Popular tradition to this day is that Shiva spends his winters in the Tibetan Kailas Mountains smoking chillums of cannabis, and sadhus make pilgrimages do this in his honour.
7, 10, 11, 12, all relate to soma and amrita, but again, not evidence of a mushroom, I would argue from the replete references to cannabis, those all make my own case for The Cannabis Soma Theory are laid out in Crowley’s own comparisons, much stronger than his for mushrooms, as when he refers to cannabis, its based on fact, not speculation. Thus, having no direct textual references to the use of psychoactive mushrooms in the literature around Shiva, Crowley is left with inventing his own.
I have already discussed Crowley’s preposterous suggestion in number 9 that Shiva’s famous dance pose where he balances on one foot. and the one legged incarnation of Shiva, Ekapada, are evidence of a mushroom stem. Crowley fails to bring in Shiva’s other appendages into this analogy, one could easily say the multiple arms were branches, by the same weak logic. (As well the Dancing Shiva, is not always depicted on one foot so Crowley qualifies with “frequently”). Crowley also suggests that any sort of “mythological scenario” that explains the dance and pose, be dismissed in order to perceive this hidden symbolism.
Shiva’s form as Ekapada is often depicted as ithyphallic (with an erect phallus), and I am venturing this may have more to do with his “one leg” as a similar analogy can be seen in Crowley’s use of Shiva’s sacred companion Nandi, as well symbolizing a mushroom! (Everything is mushrooms to this guy, I swear!).
Crowley refers to Nandi’s description of having “wide hump” and “single shining horn”, and this of course is logical evidence to him of mushroom symbolism. Nandi is a popular figure in modern Indian iconography, and has been for centuries and you would think that their devoted artists would want to capture such an important part of Nandi’s symbolism when depicting him, as it is the various aspects of each deities iconography in the expansive Indian pantheon of deities, which identifies each deity and sets them apart. But curiously a google image search of “Nandi single horn” only turns up the two horned variety of Shva’s sacred bull! I suppose that is why Crowley did not include an image to support this, in his image laden book, that is so often reliant on novel interpretations of artistic depictions, taken to an extreme and twisted to identify a mushroom. Crowley’s reference to Nandi, occurs in the Linga Purana 1,2 1-25.
“We worship him who unites the strong and the weak, who causes trouble and is never troubled, Nandi, the bull, with his wide hump and his single shining horn”.
Now the Linga Purana is a text devoted to the lingam, one of Shiva’s main symbols, and seen as a symbol of the divine phallus. This connection helps us to understand better the symbolism of the “single shining horn”, as horns themselves were often seen as symbols of virility in the ancient world, and Nandi is always depicted with two horns, perhaps it was yet another symbol of masculine virility, that is identified in this single shining horn? The fact that just as Shiva was a symbol of the lingam, Nandi was identified with the divine testicles, should help in deciphering the symbolism at play here. Nandi is often depicted with large balls, and worshippers entering the Shiva temple often grab the divine bull by the balls, to get charged with his virility, and this helps with understanding this “single horn” symbolism as well.
Nandi’s “wide hump” is suggested by Crowley, as identifying a mushroom top, for what else could it be but a mushroom cap! This is the sort of symbolism that Crowley relies on for his final bit of evidence connecting Shiva with the mushroom. The mushroom like shape of Shiva’s temples! Well that and the Sanskrit term chattraka which can be applied to a variety of Dome shaped objects, including mushrooms, Shiva’s temple, and umbrellas or as they are often referred to in the literature of the East, parasols. Parasols hold significant iconographic symbolism in the East and we will return to discuss more full later in this article as this plays a pivotal role of Crowley’s claim for secret mushroom use in Buddhism.
In the case of Shiva as the fly-agaric, according to Crowley, this goes back to the view that he is identified with the Vedic God Rudra, and this name means “red”. However that this term identifies a colour, is itself uncertain. Stella Kramrisch notes a different etymology connected with the adjectival form raudra, which means “wild”, i.e. of rude (untamed) nature, and translates the name Rudra as “the wild one” or “the fierce god”. Others see it as derived from the Tamil Word Uru means Roar, or from the root rud- (related to English “rude”) which means “to cry, howl. However an alternative etymology derives Rudra as the “red one”, the “brilliant one” from a lost root rud-, “red”or “ruddy”. Shiva is linked to the Sun (śivan, “the Red one”, in Tamil) and Rudra is also called Babhru (brown, or red) in the Rig Veda.
If we are to interpret Rudra as ‘red’ and identifying his colour, it is important to remember, that both Shiva and Kali, were deities that were worshipped in India long before the fairer skinned Aryan worshippers of the Vedas arrived, with their equally fair skinned gods. They were only later accepted into the wider Vedic Pantheon, and this was all part of the transition into later Hinduism out of the Vedic religion.
Mike Crowley however holds a vastly different view:
…It is easy to see how Rudra, “the reddish one” with a thousand eyes could be equated with the A. muscaria mushroom. Not just a hunter, he also had his healing aspect. He carried a flask of his special medicine jalasah. The significance of this later word remained a mystery until the 1890s when linguistic analysis revealed it actually means “urine.” This revelation occasioned no other discussion in its day but now, with our modern knowledge of A. muscaria metabolism and its tradition of urine-recycling, it should raise our suspicions. We have to ask ourselves if this “universal panacea” might be the urine of some who has eaten A. muscaria. (Crowley, 2019)
Now the term a “thousand eyes” has been more generally viewed as encompassing the God’s all seeing knowledge. The wider description is “Rudra with a hundred heads, a hundred eyes, and a hundred quivers“, but I suppose this lacked the visual that Crowley was shooting for here, in an attempt to connect the alleged red colour of Rudra with a fly agaric cap, and the “thousand eyes” with its white speckles.
Now, as Crowley claims at the time of Vedic Rudra, the Fly Agaric is identified by the Gods red colour, and thousand eyes, and then later this is usurped as the Aryan invaders switched to the local P. cubensis, as indicated by Shiva’s blue throat from drinking poison in the Samudra Manthana, its hard to make of what he would say when these themes get mixed up, such as in examples like “He who creepeth away, Blue-necked and ruddy” or “Homage to the blue-necked,Thousand-eyed one” from the Taittiriya Samhita (c. 1500 B.C.).
In relation to jalash meaning urine, Crowley fails to note that a variety of conflicting translations of this term have been proposed. In Aushadh Rahasya: The Secret of Ayurvedic Herbs and Disorders of the Mind, Rodney Lingham relates: “The Rig Veda text II.33.7 also states that God as Doctor, or Rudra’s (the god Shiva) hand holds jalasha (leeches) and bheshaja (medicines), which again is the image of Dhanwantri, who holds the kumbha of amrita (pot of elixir), representing herbs (although sometimes a herb), and a leech…”. David, Frawley, in Gods, Sages and Kings: Vedic Secrets of Ancient Civilization shares this interpretation:” I think jalasha means leech. The leech is very important for curing infections and fevers that go with them (the diseases of Rudra)” (Frawley, 2018) And this is also noted in Arogya Ayurvedic Health.
A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Being a Practical Handbook with Transliteration, Accentuation, and Etymological Analysis Throughout(1893) sees “soothing, healing… having soothing remedies”. Early Medieval Art Of Haryana (2003) -“The Atharvaveda mentions Rudra as Jalasha-bheshaja (Has healing remedies)”. Other sources see “cooling”. Religious History of Ancient India, Upto C. 1200 A.D.(1984) “He is Jalasha (cooling) and Jaldshabheshaja (possessing cooling medicines)”. The ‘cooling’ aspect of bhang is closely related to Shiva in this regard “If the fever-stricken performs the Vijaya abhishek, or bhang-pouring on the Ling of Shankar, the god is pleased, his breath cools, and the portion of his breath in the body of the fever-stricken ceases to inflame” (Campbell, 1894)
I can not help but see that Crowley is intellectually dishonest here by not mentioning these other translations of the term jalasha.
However, the term is translated as urine by some sources still. Vedic Mythology (1997) “Jalasa Jalasa or urine of a cow is a remedy against wounds caused by arrow having one shaft and hundred tips. This is the remedy of Rudra”. A History of Medicine: Primitive and ancient medicine (1996 ) lists “Urine (gâlâsha [or jalasa]) as a cure for scrofulous sores… This, verily, is a remedy, this is the remedy of Rudra”. As well, the Encyclopedia of Indo-Aryan research(1899), also notes in regards to scrofulous sores – “the famous remedy of Rudra, the jalasa (urine), is indicated”.
The Concept of Rudra-Śiva Through the Ages (1986) records Rudra’s “jalasa, his distinctive remedy, is shown by the Atharvan ritual to be cow’s urine, the medicinal use of which cows back to Indo-Iranian times as gaomaeza is prescribed in the Avesta“.
Crowley cited M. Bloomfield’s ‘Contributions to the interpretation of the Veda‘, (1891) As Bloomfield noted, Indian texts record “water over which the name of Rudra has been pronounced becomes an effective medicine.” Bloomfield takes note of “the fluid character of the medicine” and cites AV.vi.57: “sprinkle jalasa against (the sore), sprinkle jalasa upon (the sore); jalasa is a potent * medicine, with it be kind to us, that we may live.’
At Kauc. 31.11 we learn that urine was sprinkled upon… ‘the sore,’ and this seems to be the correct translation of jalasa. That some concrete substance is intended appears without doubt in the first stanza of the hymn (vi. 57. 1)… this surely is a remedy, this is the remedy of Rudra.’ (Bloomfield, 1891).
Like Bloomfield Stella Kramrisch, does not make a connection to psychoactive mushrooms or soma in this regard, but see purely medicinal qualitiesof urine identified. This is interesting as Kramrisch actually appears as a coauthor with R. Gordon Wasson, in Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion (1986) where she identified a mushroom as a soma substitute in the chapter “The Mahavira and the Plant Putika”, so if there was a connection to be made to mushrooms here, you would think she would have made it.
The secret practice of consuming one’s own urine in certain forms of yoga cult has been known in India for a long period. In this context also the ingested fluid is called amrta in the belief it rendered the body resistant to physical deterioration. Wasson cites an anecdote from the Mahabharata …where Krsna asks Uttanka to drink the urine of Indra. Of Course Uttanka first refuses. Whether this refusal is because of the undrinkable nature of the liquid or because it was offered by a candala is difficult to say. In any case it is hard to see how this story can be fitted into the ritual of Vedic sacrifice. The moral of the story could as well be that Uttanka… being a follower of the Vedic tradition refused to accept a Yogic potent (urine as a drink) which was opposed to his religion and secondly to receive it from a man of low-birth. The story itself is incoherent and seems to be an interpolation from a later period. It should not be forgotten that the Vedic and yogic tradition have had independent beginnings and development and that the cross-connections between the two appeared much later in history. (Swamy, 1976).
Now, here, with Shiva’s medicinally imbued urine, we run into some of the same issues with what were discussed in Part 3 of this series ‘The Mushroom Soma Theory: A Critical Analysis‘ in regards to Rig Veda 9.74.4, and translation that conflicted between “rained down” and “Pissed down” resulting from the drinking of the heavenly Soma by the Gods. As suggested in Part 3, it could well mean both, the Gods drank the heavenly soma and then rained it down to earth when they were done with it, imbuing the plants with soma in the process. Similarly, as noted in Medicine in the Veda: Religious Healing in the Veda (1996) “The water, called Rudra’s urine, is said to have come from the mountain streams and from the sea (samudrd)”. Plants were thought to receive their medicinal properties from these waters of Rudra. Thus the Atharvaveda samhitha 6.44.3 records: “You are the stream that the thunder cloud (Rudra) pours, the close relations of ambrosia” or as in Griffith’s transaltion (1895) “Thou art the stream that Rudra pours, the closest kin of Amrita”. Thus jalasa suggests that Rudra*s medicine consists of water. It is also explained that as all vegetables depend upon water for their growth it is from this same water they receive their healing properties.
However, it is clear, that when the jalasa is referred to as Rudra’s urine, it does not take its power from something the god ingested, but the power has to do with it being born from the Rudra’s body, it is the God’s water, it is the source of rivers and seas. As well, clearly, all these references to jalasa are made in regards to medical use, and no indication of any sort of psychoactive use is identifiable in the references. Wether, jalasa is translated as “urine”, “cooling”, “soothing” or “leeches”, the interpretation is always in regards to the physical healing aspects of these translations, never is any intoxicating aspect indicated, or entheogenic revelations result. It was for sores and fevers.
In this regard, it should be noted that Bloomfield, who Crowley cited in relation to jalasa meaning urine, also wrote an interesting essay on Soma, explaining how soma came down to earth from the heavens via Indra’s lightning making the clouds rain. Bloomfield makes no mention of the view this rain was the Gods’ soma infused piss, as Wasson suggested of Rig Veda 9.74.4 and considering what he wrote above, it would be surprising that he would have missed the reference, but like the vast majority of researchers, he saw rain. Again, as noted, a more full explanation of this situation can be found in Part 3 of this series, The Mushroom Soma Theory: A Critical Analysis.
At this point, after a long discussion of the many Hindu Gods and Myths that Crowley discusses, the reader is probably asking, ‘Wait a minute, I thought this was about the Secret Drugs of Buddhism?’
Buddhists on drugs…
A big part of Crowley’s Secret Drugs of Buddhism hinges not only on the identification of soma with mushroom as put forth by Wasson, but more so on his claim that this tradition survived in early Buddhism. He points to a mythology of the nagas (snake spirits) who held guard of the secret teachings of Buddha, the Prajnaparamita, under the Oceans. A monk who was able to live beneath the waves with the nagas, where there king presented him the Mahayana sutras. A mythical event that gave rise to the Mahayana movement, some centuries after Buddha’s life. As Crowley explains “it is difficult to know if there is a hidden meaning in this legend. There is, however, a folkloric tradition which associated nagas with drugs. Also, in the soma ceremony, the large soma bowl from which individual servings were taken, was called samudra (‘ocean’)” (Crowley, 2019). Crowley here making a connection to the Samudra Manthan. One would think that Crowley would cite some references to this, pointing to a source for these traditions, and citing a passage for his reference to the ocean bowl, but nope….. Which is typical of his book.
Crowley adds to this, noting that this may have been a template for secret texts attributed to Padmasambhava “which had been previously concealed (whether underground, under water, in caves, within architectural features or even in the ‘enlightened mainstream’) by Padmasambhavata” (Crowley, 2019). A wide list of speculated possibilities of locations, that opens up realms of speculation throughout Crowley’s book.
Keith Dowman is an English Dzogchen teacher and translator of Tibetan Buddhist texts, who is recognized all over the world for his expertise, and he has referred to cannabis and/or datura, in Masters of Mahamudra; Songs and Histories of the Eighty-Four Buddhist Siddhas (1985) and Masters of Enchantment (1988). In Dowman’s more recent book Guru Pema Here and Now The Mythology of the Lotus-Born the learned author suggests that cannabis and datura may have been used by even such a central figure such as Padmasambhava (“Lotus-Born”), also known as Guru Rinpoche, the 8th-century Buddhist master from the India, who aided in thee construction of the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet and venerated as a “second Buddha” by adherents of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, the Himalayan states of India, and elsewhere. Crowley, only briefly mentions this, and this becomes more fodder for speculation that mushrooms may have also been used, without the sort of support Dowman used for his educated speculation.
The Mushroom Parasols
Various hand drawn illustrations of Buddhist imagery depicting parasols, an import point of iconography in the tradition, which Crowley claims over and over are hidden references to mushrooms. These images are often used by Crowley with no indication as to where the originals are or when they were made, and without originals used one can not help to think that in many cases the illustrator of Crowley’s book may have been driven to emphasize the mushroom symbolism. Or if the originals were modern, one could ask the artist if a mushroom or parasol was the intention. In cases such as this, it is important to identify fully the objects discussed for their imagery and use photographs as well. Many of Crowley’s example lack these sorts of basic qualification.
The Parasol is an important point of iconography, not just in Buddhism, but in other traditions as well. The Chinese Buddhists Encyclopedia notes of this image:
The Parasol in Buddhism
The umbrellas symbolizes the dome of the sky, casting its shadow on the earth. This shadow is the shadow of protection. The umbrella is carried above an important person or the image of a deity, to indicate that the person or symbol below the umbrella is the center of the universe. In addition, the umbrella is indicative of the fact that deities are entitled to respect. The handle of the umbrella is the ‘axis mundi,’ which is thought to be the central axis sustaining the world….
In Tibet some dignitaries are entitled to certain parasols. Religious dignitaries are entitled to silk parasols and secular rulers are entitled to parasols that are embroidered peacock feathers. The Dalai Lama is entitled to both… The dome symbolizes wisdom, and compassion is symbolized through the hanging skirt…
…The dictionary defines a parasol as an umbrella used for protection from the sun. Thus its function is to protect exclusively from the heat rather than the rain – as the word ‘parasol,’ meaning ‘to hold off the sun,’ and ‘umbrella,’ meaning ‘little shade,’ similarly imply. The Sanskrit term ‘chattra,’ also means ‘mushroom,’ in an obvious reference to its shape.
….The Tibetan version of the parasol was adopted from its royal Indian and Chinese prototypes, and fashioned from a wooden, spoked frame with a domed silk cover and hanging silk pendants making up an overhanging skirt.
In India we see chatra (from Sanskrit: छत्र, meaning “umbrella”) which is likewise an auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism there. This Sanskrit word plays a prime role in Crowley’s mushroom connections. Crowley notes that there is no single word in Sanskrit that designates mushrooms alone and this becomes a crux of identification.
…There is simply no way to say ‘mushroom’ unambiguously. This lexical lacuna, along with cultural taboos against fungi, suggests that those who compiled the language were concealing a secret.
While Sanskrit had no direct way of saying “mushroom” there were ways in which one might indirectly allude to them. Thus, one said either chattra or atapatra, the primary meaning of both words being “parasol” or “umbrella”. There were, admittedly, awkward literary circulations such as silindhraka (“maggoty thing”) and ucchilindhra (“sprouting maggoty thing”) but, in normal everyday speech, if one wished to refer to a mushroom one said either chattra (“parasol,” “umbrella”) atapatra (“royal parasol”). These were a few variations on these terms such as chattraka (“parasol-thing”), which also happens to be the name of a kind of mushroom shaped Siva temple found in southern India. (Crowley, 2019)
So we can see this is a big part of Crowley’s identification of Shiva with the mushroom, his temple is dome shaped in Southern India. Never mind the Dome shaped building all over the world….. Its a pretty common shape the half globe. As well, like all languages, Sanskrit developed naturally and it was recorded, not constructed with an agenda to hide the mushroom.
In regards to Crowley’s claim there “is simply no way to say ‘mushroom’ unambiguously”, Monier Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872) has a number of entrees for mushrooms. Such as “chatrra” ; uc-chilandra ; kavaka ; dilira ; golasa etc. As well a variety of terms appear under ‘fungus’: “kavaka, am, a fungus, a mushroom; a mouthful”: “golasa, as, m. a mushroom, a kind of fungus springing from cow-dung; (cf. gomaya-cchatirika).” These last two list mushrooms first and foremost and this is a source Crowley cites in his book, so questions are in order in regards to why this was not explained. More modern sources list a variety of Sanskrit names as well.
Crowley points to the Sanskrit terms, chattra and chattraka to make his case and claims the root word for mushroom in Sanskrit is derived from a term for umbrella. Crowley offers no citation to back up his preposterous claim that the term for the mushroom came after the term for the umbrella, I would suggest the opposite. The name of the mushroom came to be applied to a variety of domed shaped objects.
Let us look at all the associations this word hold and give this some context, with definitions from the Spoken Sanskrit website:
Sanskrit Grammar Transliteration English
छत्त्रक m. chattraka candied sugar
छत्त्रक m. chattraka marsh barbel [Asteracantha longifolia – Bot.]छत्त्रक m. chattraka parasol-shaped bee-hive
छत्त्राक m. chattrAka plant akin to gum-Arabic tree [Acacia arabica – Bot.]छत्त्रक m. chattraka kingfisher
छत्त्रक m. chattraka parasol-shaped temple in honour of Shiva
छत्त्रक m. chattraka mushroom
छत्त्राक n. chattrAka mushroom
छत्त्रक n. chattraka parasol
छात्त्रक n. chAttraka kind of honey
छत्त्रक n. chattraka small parasol
छत्त्राकारशिरस् adj. chattrAkAraziras having a parasol-shaped head.
Here, we see the core elements that serves as a basis for so much of what Crowley has written regarding mushrooms, and why he has connected to so many different deities and objects, as with i.e. Shiva’s Temple is a mushroom; Parasol’s (umbrellas) are mushrooms, etc. However, Sanskrit is a very ancient language and root words, that came to mean other things, often took their form first in identifying simple things, like a mushroom,
Examples of this occur in all languages -Ambul: to move or walk (amble, ambulance, ambulate); Cardio: heart (cardiovascular, electrocardiogram, cardiology); Cede: to go or yield (intercede, recede, concede); Counter: against or opposite (counteract, counterpoint, counterargument); Dem: people (democracy, democrat, demographic). And this term chattraka may well have first taken root in regards to a mushroom, as no doubt like all people, the authors of the Vedas came across mushrooms, and the dome like top of the mushroom, came to be applied to things that held that shape, like umbrellas, and temples with dome tops, a beehive etc, as words to describe these objects began to occur. A direct jump to a mushroom connection beyond the similar shape, which is really just a half of a sphere, nothing to fantastic, and specifically to a psychoactive mushroom, would be utterly fantastic, and not grounded in realistic research.
What is interesting in regards to mushrooms and Sanskrit literature, is in fact references to their strict prohibition, relayed in The Sacred Laws of the Âryas (450 BC) and The Laws of Manu (a.k.a. The Book of Manu) thought to have been composed sometime around 200 B.C., although both texts likely contained much older material and influences – A situation that was examined in Part 3 of this series, The Mushroom Soma Theory: A Critical Analysis. As discussed in that article, Crowley also makes more out of these prohibitions than should be garnered. He claims a death penalty where none existed, and ignores the other items prohibited in a list alongside mushrooms, with no reference to the context that indicates concerns about hygiene and food sources.
In order to establish the these sorts of substances were always a secret aspect of Buddhism, particularly soma, would require identifying their use in the texts, prior to their later introduction into Tantric Buddhism in the much later medieval period. Crowley fails to make a case for a continued mushroom soma tradition, through this period, and into later Buddhism. When drugs do enter later Tibetan and Tantric Buddhist texts, they were referred to in a number of the occult Tantras that were passed around by the more esoterically minded members of those sects in the medieval period.
As described in The Life of Gampopa: The Incomparable Dharma Lord of Tibet: “You can attain Buddhahood: by taking a medicine pill which will make you immortal like the sun and moon”. As Aris Walter explained in ‘Preliminary Results from a Study of Two Rasayana Systems in Indo-Tibetan Esoterism‘, “the ingestion of drugs to strengthen the yogin and procure the siddhi for him, as well as bringing him to the final goal” was a method used by certain Tibetan adepts.
It is indeed unfortunate that Crowley did not use his expertise in this area, to catalog the various actual references to drugs in these traditions, but instead focussed on fanciful speculations about mushrooms every where his imagination would lead him.
The Real Secret Drugs of Tantric Buddhism and the Tibetan tradition
Sadly, Crowley makes very little reference to the actual role of cannabis or datura in Tibetan Tantric Buddhism altogether, although he does give a passing mention the tradition that Buddha survived on a diet of a few hemp seeds while meditating under the Bodhi tree.
These stories appeared in the the 3rd century AD Indian biography of Buddha, Lalita Vistara (Sanskrit), by Dharmarakcha, (308 AD) and were repeated in the 7th century AD Chinese Buddhist text The Memorial of Sakya Buddha Tathagata. In this text Buddha is referred to as a Sakya, a term identified with the Scythians, a culture known for their ritual use of cannabis, opium and likely other substances. A Catena of Buddhist Scriptures from the Chinese (1871) recorded: “Several indirect considerations would lead to the supposition that they were a branch of the great Scythian race (Sakas), who about the time of Buddha’s birth were pushing themselves into the southern portions of Asia and Europe”. The Scythians dominated Northern India from about the first century BC to the 3rd century AD, leaving some to deem this The Scythian Period, in the region. Scythian royalty seems to have alternated between Buddhism and worship of the indigenous Indian god Shiva, the Lord of bhang!
The Memorial of Sakya Buddha Tathagata, contains the passage, “He ate grain and hemp seed, subduing pain, subduing pleasure.”. The following earlier verse from 3rd century AD Indian text, the Lalita Vistara was cited has been seen as a likely source:
“The prince coming to the Ka-ye (Gaya) mountain, to the Ni-h’n (Nairanjana) river, reflected, considering that, as he intended to penetrate to the secret influences which actuate the conduct of men, he might, after six years, be in a position to save them. Thus he addressed himself to the practice of austerities (Dushkaracharya), each day eating one grain of hemp, one grain of rice; by this means reducing himself to a condition of overcoming all pleasure. Afterwards, perceiving that this was not the true way, he pursued the contrary method, using indulgencies, bathing, perfuming himself, and so on; by these means he subdued sorrow” (as the text says).
The Lalita Vistara does mention “indulgencies” [sic]to subdue sorrow, which opens up some possibilities of intoxication, but a vague reference from a text thought to be composed some 8 centuries after the life of Buddha, is unfortunately a weak piece of evidence to make any case. In the much later Buddhist text the Tārātantra, cannabis is described by Buddha as being essential to spiritual “ecstasy”. The author of the medieval text, Tārātantra records the Buddha saying that drinking wine without also having consumed cannabis “cannot produce real ecstasy”, which was seen as a pivotal step in attaining enlightenment (Maitra, 1983; White, 1996).
Other medieval Buddhist references have also been noted. “Over the last few decades, university religious studies departments have produced translations of Buddhist tantric texts of unprecedented quality, providing ample material for an examination of psychoactive plant use by Buddhists in Asia” (Parker & Lux, 2008). In there well researched essay, ‘Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism; Cannabis and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism‘, which by the way does not identify any psychoactive mushroom use, researchers Parker and Lux identify references to cannabis, datura and other psychoactive plants in medieval Buddhist Tantric texts such as the Mahākāla Tantra, where the “plants are employed to attain health, wealth, wisdom, and supernatural powers such as seeing underground and flying” (Parker & Lux, 2008).
“These formulas include cannabis in several different forms, including leaves, resin, and other plant material. Given that these cannabis products are included in the “perfect medicine’ formulas of the Mahākāla Tantra, cannabis may perhaps be considered a significant part of this tantric lineage.” (Parker & Lux, 2008).
In schools of Tibetan Buddhism, Mahakala is seen as an important guardian deity and he is often depicted in their art. That this direct reference to cannabis in his worship is missed by Crowley in his book Secret Drugs of Buddhism, raises questions, as does his exclusion of other material regarding the actual use of drugs in texts known by the more occult minded adepts of the Tantric and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.
The Cakrasamvara Tantra also identifies a magico-medical role for cannabis, here under the name that Crowley failed to address in his discussion of ‘usana‘ and ‘Indrasana‘, this being the Sanskrit name sana. As noted in Kailas Histories: Renunciate Traditions and the Construction of Himalayan Sacred Geography (2015): “The circa 8th century Cakrasamvara Tantra mentions hemp (Śaṅa = cannabis sativa) as part of an abundant life for a free ranging yogin”. The text also identifies datura and other plants.
The Cakrasaṃvara Tantra (Sanskrit: चक्रसंवर तन्त्र), Khorlo Déchok or Khorlo Demchok (Tibetan: འཁོར་ལོ་བདེ་མཆོག, Wylie: ‘khor lo bde mchog) is considered to be of the mother class of the Anuttarayoga Tantra in Vajrayana Buddhism. See also Acorns: Windows High-Tide Foghat, Volume 3 (2013) and Indian Esoteric Buddhism: Social History of the Tantric Movement (2004) for other Tantric Buddhist references to cannabis, datura and other drugs.
Although, it should be remembered that the Tārātantra is a relatively minor text, composed two millennia after the life of Buddha, (1600) and it has not exerted much influence on the Buddhist religion. Likewise the Mahākāla Tantra and the Cakrasamvara Tantra, can by no means be considered mainstream Buddhist texts, and have had limited impact on modern Buddhist traditions. Even at its peak, from about 700-900 AD, well over a millennia after the life of Buddha, medieval Tantric Buddhism was a fringe tradition, practiced by laypersons and not ordained Buddhist monks or nuns. However, such texts certainly would have been considered ‘secret’ or ‘occult’ and just the sort of evidence you would think that Crowley would have referenced in his book on drugs in this tradition. However, Crowley misses many of these and other known references to drugs in various Buddhist Tantric texts, in favour of trying to identify mushrooms, in images that they do not appear in, and texts that make no reference to them.
For researchers interested in flushing out more about the actual use of drugs in the Tibetan and Buddhist traditions check out ‘The Use of Entheogens in the Vajrayana Tradition: a brief summary of preliminary findings together with a partial bibliography‘ (2007) by R. C. Parker, which will give you a better idea of the actual references to psychoactive substances in this tradition than you will find in Crowley’s Secret Drugs of Buddhism. As Parker explains of his considerable bibliography of texts: “When these sources are taken together, their combined weight leaves little room for doubt that Vajrayana has had a well-documented tradition of making use of entheogenic plants (especially datura and cannabis) for magico-religious and psychospiritual purposes. While this use may never have been particularly widespread, it is certainly significant” (Parker, 2008). Curiously, Parker lists no references to mushrooms in this context, which is odd considering the subtile to Crowley’s book is ‘Psychedelic Sacraments and the Origins of the Vajrayana‘!
The Proliferation of Nonsense
Whilst working on this review, one of the things I really came to realize, with how widely this sort of nonsense has proliferated, much like the situation with Wasson’s contentious Soma mushroom theory. Crowley is far from alone here, and even in the realm of Tibetan Buddhism, he has built on the nonsense before him. Crowley refers to the work of Scott Hajicek-Dobberstein, who in his 1995 paper, ‘Soma siddhas and alchemical enlightenment: psychedelic mushrooms in Buddhist tradition‘ paved the way for Crowley’s Secret Drugs of Buddhism, with nonsensical claims like this in regards to Interpretation of the secret meaning of the Buddhist texts:
… Firstly, there are the historical, biographical facts: the castes into which the siddhas were born, their occupations, the locations they lived in, the names of their gurus and the tantras they practised. The validity of these facts is, in many cases, uncertain.
The second level of meaning in these stories is the didactic. For instance, Karnaripa is told by his guru that he should not receive tasty food as his alms; he should only accept as much food as will fit on the point of a needle. The lesson for Karnaripa and for readers of his story is that tantric disciples should practice austerities. This level of meaning is carried in the stories by the overt meaning of the words and symbols.
In many stories, I cannot say how many, there is embedded a deeper level of meaning which is expressed in sandhabhasa, ‘intentional language’ or ‘enigmatic language’, which is used to obscure the true meaning for the uninitiated while declaring it for the initiates. Such symbols in the stories seem to mean one thing, but they really mean something else. After receiving Nagarjuna’s dietary advice, Karnaripa returns from begging with a pancake piled with sweets on the tip of his needle. This seems to be an ironic joke played on his guru by his benefactors. However, at a deeper level which I will attempt to interpret below, the pancake on a needle is a symbol representing the fly agaric mushroom. After all, we should not expect practitioners of tantra or alchemy, known for their vows of secrecy, to relate a story of the wonderful alchemical elixir which grants enlightenment, while plainly and openly stating the identity of the secret essential ingredient.
So here, we see the same sort of logic, that Crowley uses for parasols indicating mushrooms, applied to the imagery of a plate of sweets balanced on the top of a needle magically transformed into a mushroom, in a myth that is clearly about monkly austerity.
The preposterous research of both Crowley and Hajicek-Dobberstein is accepted unquestioningly in the recently released ‘Special Issue on Psychedelics in History and World Religions’ in what is touted as the academic peer reviewed Journal of Psychedelic Studies. This special edition is described:
Psychedelic substances have a great antiquity in human history and pre-history, and are found in cultures around the world, in shamanic contexts as well as complex civilizations. The contributors to this volume address the various forms of evidence of the role of these substances in the past, with a particular focus on their religious roles.
The editor of this special Issue, was Michael Winkelman, PhD, who I appear with in the Gaia series Psychedelica. He is a nice guy, and I corresponded a little with him, about his essay, ‘The “Kamasutra” temples of India: A case for the encoding of psychedelically induced spirituality‘ (2019). As Winkelman describes his essay in another essay, ‘Introduction: Evidence for entheogen use in prehistory and world religions‘:
In their article “The ‘Kamasutra’ Temples of India – a Case for the Encoding of Psychedelically-induced Spirituality,” Meena Maillart-Garg and Michael Winkelman address one of the most famous entheogenic controversies, the identity of Soma of Hindu traditions, proposed to be the mushroom A. muscaria by Wasson (1972). The presence of mushroom representations in the sculptures of sanctuaries of the Khajuraho Temples provides evidence that entheogenic mushrooms are the identity of soma. They analyze the features of these fungiforms and Vedic traditions to propose that these are designed to depict both the A. muscaria, as well as Psilocybe cubensis species…. They further propose that some of the so-called “broken” sculptures of Khajuraho are not actually damaged, but rather deliberately constructed to appear vandalized to encode information related to entheogens in the form of the early stage of A. muscaria. The central placement of mushroom pedestals as necessary steps into the sanctum of the temples attests to a profound entheogenic message. This physical and symbolic data has considerable implications for a reevaluation of the ancient roots of Hinduism, indicating that entheogenic mushrooms were the most important sacraments of early Hinduism and persisted for millennia.
Wasson’s (1972) proposal of the existence of a widespread entheogenic A. muscaria mushroom tradition across Eurasia has various forms of support from findings reported for complex societies as well. The continuation of mushroom cults in complex societies of Asia was illustrated by Crowley (2015)… and Hajicek-Dobberstein (1995), who review evidence of religious mushroom cults. Psychedelic mushroom use is reported for Taoist cult practices documented in Tibet and China by Crowley (2015) and Hajicek-Dobberstein (1995)…
So we can see exactly how the bullshit stacks here… I’ve looked at Winkelman’s paper, ‘The “Kamasutra” temples of India: A case for the encoding of psychedelically induced spirituality‘ and I have corresponded with him. The impression I got is that he knew very little about the actual Vedic descriptions of soma, and his identification here, and his knowledge of the subject is based purely on what he has read from the likes of Wasson and Crowley. He asked me pointed questions in regards to my own views, and I offered answers, when I said to answer those same questions he sent me about soma, nothing came back in return.
Winkelman describes the above ‘mushroom imagery’ hidden in ‘va