The Mushroom Soma Theory: A Critical Analysis

The Mushroom Soma Theory: A Critical Analysis

CANNABIS CULTURE – Undoubtedly, currently the most popular candidate for Soma has been the Amanita muscaria mushroom, which, with its bright red speckled cap, and this association, has become something of a generic symbol for psychedelics, and psychedelic mushrooms particularly, despite the fact that the psilocybin varieties are immensely more popular with modern enthusiasts.

This is part 3 in a series on The Soma-Haoma Questions, which seeks to identify the origins of the ancient sacramental entheogenic beverages, soma and haoma, of the Indian Rig Veda and the Persian Avesta. In this article we will take a critical look at the various claims made that Soma was a mushroom. Other articles in this series include:

Part 1 – The Soma-Haoma Question (an overview of the topic and series)

Part 2 – The Cannabis Soma Theory

The Mushroom Soma Theory

The Fly-agaric mushroom soma theory has largely been credited as originally proposed by the banker and mycologist R. Gordon Wasson, in his book Soma: divine mushroom of immortality (1968) and has been widely accepted by a number of scholars and authors, like Huston Smith, anthropologist Weston La Barre, Prof. Carl Ruck, Michael James Winkelman PhD., poet-philosopher Robert Graves, Mycophiles Terrence Mckenna, Clark Heinrich, Mike Crowley, James Arthur and many others. Although many of these sources seem to switch between Fly-agaric Mushrooms and Psilocybin varieties in their various identifications. I will do what i can to address some of these other various suggestions and interpretations as well. As La Barre wrote of Wasson:

The careful scholarship of the dedicated amatuer mycophile R. Gordon Wasson reads like an exciting scientific, detective story. Moreover, his willingness to pursue the quest through the wide range of linguistics, archaeology, folklore, philology, ethnobotany, plant ecology, human physiology, and prehistory constitutes a object lesson to all holistic professional students of man. (La Barre, 1970)

R. Gordon Wasson

Indeed, even one of the most in-depth anthropological studies of hemp, Cannabis and Culture, included an essay on the role of cannabis in India, where the author concluded;

Some scholars believe that soma, the mysterious plant, is cannabis… however, the idea has been strongly opposed by Wasson… Wasson’s scholarly analysis of numerous verses from the Rg Veda and ethnohistorical and entheobotanical data advance very convincing arguments for identifying soma as the mushroom, fly-agaric (Amanita muscaria). (Hasan, 1975)

Before beginning this pointed dismissal of R. Gordon Wasson’s theory of Amanita muscaria as the original Soma it should be noted that Wasson’s overall contributions to the study of the role of psychoactives in the birth of religion are more than remarkable. However, other researchers have been less kind in their assessment of Wasson’s role in the study of entheogens. Author Jan Irvin, who i am no fan of, but who has written on The Soma Mushroom Theory, suggests Wasson may have been influenced by the works of a much earlier writer, and failed to give him his due credit:

Wasson’s book features the Amanita muscaria on the cover

A comparison of the effects of Soma with those of the Amanita muscaria and cannabis was first proposed in the book Scatalogic [sic] Rites of All Nations by John G. Bourke, 1891. The author dedicated more than 30 pages (pgs. 65-99) to the study of the ritualistic use of mushrooms, including the Siberian Amanita muscaria urine drinking custom, and Mexican mushroom practices. This is probably where Wasson first learned of the ritualistic use of mushrooms, urine consumption, and Soma. On page 98 is a letter to Bourke by a Dr. J. W. Kingsley:

“I remember being shown this fungus by an Englishman who was returning […] from Siberia. He fully confirmed all that I had heard on the subject, having seen the orgy [mushroom rituals]himself. … Nothing religious in this, you may say; but look at the question a little closer and you will see that these ‘intoxicants,’ […] were at first looked upon as media able to raise the mere man up to a level with his gods, and enable him to communicate with them, as was certainly the case with the ‘soma’ of the Hindu ecstatics and the hashich [sic]I have seen used by some tribes of Arabs.”

Most scholars claim that Wasson was the progenitor of these ideas, but this is not wholly accurate. It appears that Wasson may have ‘borrowed’ several key ideas from Bourke’s research and expanded upon them throughout his career, subsequently creating the field of ethnomycology. Thereafter it appears that Bourke was relegated mostly to rare catalogue and bibliographical entries published by Wasson and a few other scholars of his ilk. However, Bourke is not to be found, as one should expect for the extent of his studies on the subject, in the main body of text in most of the books published on the subject for the last half century. (Irvin, 2009)

Bourke, in fact, put forth one of the better pieces of evidence for the potential ancient Vedic use of the psychedelic mushroom, in his Scatalogic Rites of All Nations  noting this ironically through accounts of strong prohibitions of mushrooms in the early Indian period, something Wasson surprisingly failed to adequately address, but will be discussed here later. Bourke was referring to references 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.

So, to be clear, the first claims of Vedic use of psychoactive mushrooms, occurred in a book about shit, which is interesting, as mushrooms grow in shit, and The Vedic Soma Mushroom Theory itself is shit.

Another thing that I would like to note, is that The Soma Mushroom Theory, is purely the work of Western writers. No reputable Indian scholars of the Rig Veda or Persian of the Avesta, accept these identifications, as they go directly against the descriptions of the plant described in both the Vedas and Avesta.

Wasson’s Mushroom Mania

An overview by Wasson of The Soma Mushroom Theory can be read here.

My greatest criticism of Wasson’s book Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality is that for the most part it only deals with about half the evidence; the Avestan material is only dealt with in a few passages; and a large part of the Vedas are purposely left out of the discussion!

I exclude from consideration the latest hymns to have been written, the last to be included in the canon before it was closed. These hymns differ from the others considerably in tone and language, and there is reason to believe there are substitutes, which I think had always been occasionally used, and now almost completely replaced the Soma sacrifice. These hymns are mostly in Mandala X from 85 through 191. (Wasson, 1970)

Wasson favours the Rig Veda (or rather parts of it) over the Avesta with the acknowledgment and explanation that “Religiously and linguistically the Avesta and RgVeda are siblings. The text of the Rgveda is, however, much purer owing to its marvellous preservation through the ages by the disciplined human memory” (Wasson, 1970). One is left wondering who Wasson felt had preserved the tradition of the Avesta! Having read translations of both texts, what I could see was a profound similarity in both content and style. The view of scholars is that both texts derived from an earlier common source. Moreover, as we shall see, both texts agree on various identifying points of both soma and haoma. This is the reason of the exclusions of these texts by Wasson and others, it is required to be able to maintain The Soma Mushroom Theory, as we shall see.

Indeed, throughout his book, it is almost as if Wasson purposely, or unconsciously, excluded all potential textual references that conflicted with his own view. Moreover, he even acknowledges that soma “substitutes, had always been occasionally used,” as he clearly recognized that the passages in the remaining texts from the Vedas which he allowed for his study (when it fit his view) indicated a variety of the other candidates for the Soma, more so than did his own champion, or rather champignon! As well, Wasson only excludes the remaining texts when they don’t support his opinion, but when he’s able to find the rare passage that he can manipulate an interpretation from in favour of his hypothesis, he quotes quite freely from it, and he does this numbers of times in Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, sometimes jumping more than a millennia forward in time to cite much later texts that help his case, all while denying Vedic texts, with the claim they were composed after the Soma was lost.

As Wasson conveniently states: “In the Rg Veda (excluding the latter half of the Mandala X, last to be admitted to the canon) there is no reference to the root of the Soma plant, nor its leaves, nor its blossoms, nor its seed” (Wasson, 1970). Wasson’s often repeated mistake here is based solely on omission. This reasoning for the omission of the 10th mandala of the Rig Veda and related Avestan material is certainly not the view of other Indologists and Vedic scholars that have explored the soma question, and it started with Wasson. With the 10th Mandala‘s references to Soma as a “green” and “purple tree”, and the stones used for pressing it being tuned green, we can understand why it would have been a challenge to address in relation to a mushroom.

Rig Veda 10.94 – (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. [Emphasis added]

Passages from the 10th Mandala of the Rig Veda are an exclusion that is needed to maintain The Soma Mushroom Theory. The reality is, Vedic scholars do not see these descriptions as evidence of a substitute, as the disappearance and substitutes of Soma are clearly described as they take place in a number of  ancient sanskrit texts, such as Satapatha Brahmana, The Book of Manu (aka, The Laws of Manu; The Code of Manu) and the Aitareya Brahmanam, a situation outlined thoroughly in The Cannabis Soma Theory.

It should be noted that only a few of the passages that are left in Wasson’s exclusive study deal with the plant soma, many deal with the beverage soma, the God Soma, and the Moon (which was viewed as the celestial goblet of Soma from which the God’s drank, and which was continually replenished by the Sun). By the exclusion of the Rig Veda’s Tenth Mandala, which holds the most descriptive account of the plant soma in the Rig Veda, Wasson purposely limited the passages discussed to those which fit his view.

Even in the 9th Mandala of the Rig Veda, which Wasson allows, and deals with the drink, the descriptions discount Fly Agaric, and agree with that given in more detail in the 10th Mandala:

9.1.10 – The ever-green. the golden-hued, refulgent, with a thousand boughs.

9.25.1 –  GREEN-HUED! as one who giveth strength flow on for Gods to drink, a draught

9.26.5 – Him, green, beloved, many eyed, the Sisters with prosing stones
Send down to ridges of the sieve.

9.42.1 – ENGENDERING the Sun in floods, engendering heaven’s lights, green-hued,
Robed in the waters and the milk,

9.57.2 – He flows beholding on his way all wellbeloved sacred lore,
Green-tinted, brandishing his, arms.

In this regard, besides the colour reference, 9.1.10 refers to many branches; 9.25.1 the colour of the drink; 9.26.5, makes reference to the stones used to crush Soma, and the sieve used to strain it, a process many have compared to the modern preparation of bhang; 9.42.1 its preparation with milk; 9.57.2, again arms, branches…. The best short description of the plant in Rig Veda is the verse, 9.5.10 “O self-purifying one, with your honeyed stream anoint the Lord of the Forest, the tawny one with a thousand branches, blazing, golden.”

Yellow as well is referred to, but a green plant mixed with milk and pressed can take on a yellow hue, as we can see with bhang preparations. Season may effect this as well:

9.65.8 -Whose coloured sap they drive with stones, the yellow meath-distilling juice,
Indu for Indra, for his drink.

9.97.52 -Pour forth this wealth with this purification: flow onward to the yellow lake, O Indu.

Descriptions of preparation of soma, in both the 9th Mandala, and the 10th which Wasson excluded from his study, agree. Plant green branches were pounded with rocks, the pulp and juice expressed, mixed with milk, the preparation was filtered through wool, expressing a green or yellow liquid.

Alternatively, in the Vedic Index, MacDonell and Kieth (1958) associated the Vedic term naicasakha with Soma, and this indicates branches (or twigs and leaves) hanging down, which would again give indications of cannabis. Vedic scholar, Dr. N. Waradpande also felt Vedic descriptions indicated branches and leaves (Waradpande, 1995).

Mike Crowley

More recently, Mike Crowley, who refers to Wasson’s “monumental work” in regards to Soma, has carried on with Wasson’s trope, and refers to the “fact the Vedas have no mention of soma’s, leaves, roots or branches” in his recently released Secret Drugs of Buddhism (Crowley, 2019). Thus we can see this ‘theory’ is alive and well, and this sort of misinformation goes mostly unquestioned and unchallenged.

Flattery and Schwartz rightly noted that Wasson’s view that the Soma was a mushroom and had no leaves, branches or roots, was due to the fact that “the soma referred to in the RgVeda and adduced by Wasson as pertaining to the mushroom is the liquid extract (soma pavamana) or the deity Soma, and hence not the soma plant at all” (Flattery & Schwartz, 1989). Indeed this is a key point, Soma was a God, a Plant, the Moon and a Drink. Context makes these references easy to place as to which is identified, and Wasson ignores these various designations to make his case, as do those who have followed in his path of The Mushroom Soma Theory.

In regards to this green and yellow drink described in the 9th Mandala, we also have the epithet bhang, for soma as recorded in (Rigveda IX.61.13). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary records  “Bhanga… an epithet of Soma…, f. hemp (Cannabis Saliva)… an intoxicating beverage prepared from the hemp plant“, likewise in  Indian Antiquary, Volume 2 (1874) we find:

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).

On one of the few occasions when Wasson deals with the Avestan literature, his textual interpretation of the passage (which he interprets as identifying the growth of a mushroom, with no stems, roots or branches) is, in the very least, original, as can be seen from a comparison with translations from a translation on the Harvard University website.

Y.10.5

Increase by my word in all (your) roots

in all (your) buds, and in all (your) protuberances [i.e. branches]!

A translation from The Zend Avesta, Part III (SBE31), L.H. Mills, tr. [1886], reads

Y.10.5

Grow (then) because I pray to thee on all thy stems and branches, in all thy shoots (and tendrils) increase thou through my word!

But Wasson Y.10.5 manipulates this unsupported translation out of the verse.

Swell, (then,) by my word!

In all thy stalks, and all thy shoots, and in all thy sprouts.

Dieter Taillieu, an expert on Vedic and Indo-European studies states that there “seems no doubt that the haoma depicted in the Hôm Yašt is a normal, chlorophyll-bearing plant: apart from its stock color epithet ‘yellow, golden, green’ (Av. zairi- and zairi.gaona-, cf. Skt. hari-) this is suggested most strongly by the mention of “stems, shoots and branches” (Av… Y. 10.5).”

Haoma is further called ‘having tender/pliant’ [stem]… (Av… Y. 9.16) or ‘having tasty…’ [flavour]pure soma, however, is not; ‘sweet,’ Skt. mádhu-, but ‘sharp, astringent,’…  In favor of the fly-agaric theory “stalk” (Wasson, 1968) and “fibre”/“flesh”…were proposed, but this ignores the expressed necessity of pounding the [stalk]…  which seems relevant only in the case of fibrous or hard plant material (twigs, roots, seed)…. Reality has been sought in haoma’s epithet “tall” (Av. bə rə zant-, Y. 10.21, Vd. 19.19;…). (Taillieu, 2002)

As Weston La Barre (who accepted Wasson’s theory hook, line and sinker) attempted to explain of the differences between Soma and Haoma; “the plant that some students identify as haoma is apparently an herbaceous plant” (La Barre, 1980). Indeed, unable to find compatibility between haoma and soma, La Barre went on to suggest that the Haoma of the Avesta was a replacement for Wasson’s Vedic Soma-mushroom, which he believed was used by the ancestors of both cults.

Wasson states Soma is unique amongst the Gods of the Vedas, “Soma was at the same time a god, a plant, and the juice of the plant. So far as we know, Soma is the only plant ever deified” (Wasson, 1970). I concur with this statement, but then it is in fact evidence in favour of cannabis as being the original plant identified as Soma, and indication of this comes from India itself as a reading of the historical record shows in the following passage from The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report (1894) on ‘The Worship of the Hemp Plant’:

The custom of worshipping the hemp plant, although not so prevalent as that of offering hemp to Shiva and other deities of the Hindus, would nevertheless appear from the statements of the witnesses to exist to some extent in some provinces of India. The reason why this fact is not generally known may perhaps be gathered from such statements as that of Pandit Dharma Nand Joshi, who says that such worship is performed in secret. There may be another cause of the denial on the part of the large majority of Hindu witnesses of any knowledge of the existence of a custom of worshipping the hemp plant in that the educated Hindu will not admit that he worships the material object of his adoration, but the deity as represented by it. The custom of worshipping the hemp plant, though not confined to the Himalayan districts or the northern portions of India alone, where the use of the products of the hemp plant is more general among the people, is less known as we go south. Still even far south, in some of the hilly districts of the Madras Presidency and among the rural population, the hemp plant is looked upon with some sort of veneration….  There is a passage quoted from Rudrayanmal Danakand and Karmakaud in the report on the use of hemp drugs in the Baroda State, which also shows that the worship of the bhang plant is enjoined in the Shastras. It is thus stated: “The god Shiva says to Parvati—‘Oh, goddess Parvati, hear the benefits derived from bhang. The worship of bhang raises one to my position.’” In Bhabishya Puran it is stated that “on the 13th moon of Chaitra (March and April) one who wishes to see the number of his sons and grandsons increased must worship Kama (Cupid) in the hemp plant, etc.”

Conceivably, the elements of plant deification in these independent small districts could be indications of a more ancient surviving tradition. Anthropologists often look to the folklore and customs of the common folk for evidence of the survival of more ancient traditions. Thus, in regard to soma being the only plant ever deified in the Old World, either Wasson is wrong in his statement: for if cannabis is not the soma, then in the area he is writing about we have evidence of another plant being worshipped; or he is wrong about the identification of the Fly agaric, and we have more evidence in favour of cannabis being the soma through its continued deification in the surviving traditions of the common folk who would have been less influenced by the eventual Vedic reforms which led to the plant’s disappearance than their more cosmopolitan counterparts.

Possibly aware of some of these connections, Wasson himself discounted The Cannabis Soma Theory with an arrogant sounding comment that comes off as something written during the British Raj!

In 1921 an Indian advanced the notion that Soma, after all, was nothing but bhang, the Indian name for marijuana, Cannabis sativa, hemp, hashish. He conveniently ignored the fact that the Rg Veda placed Soma only on the high mountains, where hemp grows everywhere; and that the virtue of Soma lay in the stalks, whereas it is the resin of the unripened pistillate buds of hashish that transport one into the beyond; or, much weaker, the leaves, which are never mentioned in the Rg Veda. (Wasson, 1970)

Without digressing too far, as we will be returning to the subject in detail later, it should be noted that Wasson goes to great lengths to properly reference other authors and researchers, but when he comes to this topic, he disrespectfully drops all sense of propriety and refers to an indigenous researcher on the subject, as simply “an Indian” disregarding his learned input! Little wonder that Wasson’s theory has accumulated no visible support amongst Vedists in India.

The “Indian” was Braja Lal Mukherjee M.A., M.R.A.S., and as an indigenous researcher he could read the actual Vedas in the language they were written; Mukherjee was the first amongst a number of Vedic researchers who suggested bhang (hemp) as a candidate for Soma. In 1921  Mukherjee sent a letter regarding his booklet by the same name The Soma Plant which was published in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland. It should also be noted that, as discussed in The Cannabis Soma Theory, as well as my book, this interpretation has been suggested by more than one “Indian”: Joges Candra Ray (1939), Chandra Chakraberty, (1944), (Vikramasiṃha, (1967)., Indian botanist B. G. L. Swamy (1976), (Ramachandran and Mativāṇan̲, (1991), Dr. N.R. Waradpande (1995), Indra Deva & Shrirama, (1999) have all identified the Vedic Soma with bhang (Hemp). (See The Cannabis Soma Theory for more on these researchers).

I would recommend both Dr. N.R. Waradpande’s booklet The RgVedic Somaand the Indian botanist Professor B. G. L. Swamy’s article The Rg Vedic Soma Plant, for their critique of Wasson’s work and translations. I know of no indigenous Vedic scholars who have agreed with Wasson’s hypothesis. (Wasson later revealed his own long held prejudices against cannabis, through his requests that it not be considered an ‘entheogen’ when the term was being coined.) Moreover, this theory seems to be only something floated by Western writers, and no actual Indologists I am aware of.

In 1971, Vedic scholar John Brough from Cambridge University critical of Wasson’s theory in his article ‘Soma and Amanita muscaria‘, noting things like the “numerous botanical names and ‘synonyms’ given… may sometimes require further taxonomic research before they may be safely quoted.”  I would say the same with the numerous Vedic and Avestan translations which were done specifically to make a case for Wsson’s book, and these are still used verbatim by many proponents of The Mushroom Soma Theory, who are unable to find anything suitable in the various published translations available.

American Indologist Wendy Doniger

Curiously, Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty (whose contribution to Wasson’s Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, was the best part of that book), felt that Mukherjee’s theory on cannabis and Soma was a “strange argument, combining linguistic reasoning with the purest twaddle” (Doniger-O’Flaherty, 1968). One is left wondering what exactly Doniger O’Flaherty thought Wasson based his theory on? (Out of respect for Wasson’s contributions to the study of psychoactive substances and religion, this author will refrain from the obvious retorts, and instead, with clearer scholarship, put Wasson’s Soma-Amanita theory to rest once and for all). It should be noted that O’Flaherty, never fully endorsed Wasson’s soma theory, the best she could muster was that it was a“novel solution” which “revivifies a body of speculation” (Doniger O’Flaherty, 1968).

Professor B. G. L. Swamy

In reference to Wasson’s comment that it is only the buds of cannabis which contain the resin, and the power lay in the stalks, Indian botanist B. G. L. Swamy, a proponent of The Soma Cannabis Theory, noted:

It is true that the maximum quantity of the narcotic is collected from the resinous secretions on the female inflorescence. The leaves, however, rarely exude the resin but yet do contain narcotic substances. As attested by Watt [(1889)], in plants inhabiting the montane habitat the bark spontaneously ruptures and the narcotic resin exudes…. it is not correct to say that it [the narcotic principle]is endemic only in the pistillate buds. The Vedic texts refer to this part as amsu. Certainly it does not mean specifically a leaf. The word merely imports the meaning of ‘a part’ (cf amsa). Contextually it may refer to a part of the stem, leaf, stalk and leaves. In other words any part of a body, shoot in this case, is an amsu. Certainly it does not mean specifically a leaf. The word merely imparts the meaning of ‘a part’ (cf. amsu). Contextually, it may refer to a part of the stem, leaf stalk, and leaves. In other words any part of a body, shoot in this case, is an amsu. Because the amsu from the stem part contains the hard core of xylem (which becomes harder when dry) it was essential not only to soak them in water but also to pound the pieces with stones in order to express the juice.

….As Soma has been designated as an osadhi, it is anormal green plant, with root, stem and leaves. There is no evidence whatsoever in the Rig-veda to point out that it was… a mushroom.

The colour of the expressed juice is described as hari, babhru, aruna; How the same liquid appears in three different hues needs an explanation. Wsson argues that hari also means ‘red’ more or less the same shade as commonly applied to babhru and aruna. He feels that hari came to mean ‘green’ in later times. While it should be admitted that the Rig-vedic hymns were written over a course of centuries, it is difficult to convincingly distinguish the earlier and later compositions. However, their are numerous non-Soma hymns in the text where hari means only one shade, that is greenish, or green yellowish…

When the green plant is pressed, the colour of the fresh juice is greenish yellow (hari). The juice crushed from dry twigs cannot be expected to retain this shade. The tannins and other phenolic compounds stored in the plant tissue along with the brownish coloured resin impart a tawny (babhru) shade to the juice. It must be remembered the juice was stored in wooden containers and exposed to the air. It is likely the stored liquid in part became oxidized due to exposure, as a result of which the colour of the liquid became intensified into babhru and aruna shades (Swamy, 1976)

A recent High Times Magazine article discussed ” how to extract THC from stems“. However, references to stalks of the plant being crushed for the Soma, from the vague description give in the Vedas, could just as easily refer to the long stalk like bud covered branches of cannabis as any other plant. A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases refers to “bhang, the dried leaves and small stalks of hemp” (Crooke, 1903). It should be noted, that a lot of wild cannabis was sparse, with spread out buds and leaves, the fat kolas of today’s high grade marijuana look little like the plants hashish was collected off of in the Himalayas in the 70s.

 

Moreover a mushroom stalk makes up little of the mushroom, probably just a few inches at most when dried. As well, a mushroom only has one small stalk per plant, and as Mahdihassan notes “Wasson… has not correctly worded the problem. What calls for question is not only stalks but a thousand boughs per plant. Abiding by what the Rgveda actually states soma would be an assembly of a ‘thousand boughs’…” (Mahdihassan, 1986).

…soma/haoma is prepared from stems or stalks, which most probably should be regarded as fibrous… while the fleshy stems of A. muscaria contain only very small amounts of the pharmacologically active compounds, which are concentrated in the mushroom cap (these are the only parts of the mushroom used in northern Siberia. (Nyberg, 1995)

The lack of active compounds in the stalk of the Fly agaric is interesting when compared to Wasson’s earlier comments which discounted cannabis as a candidate, reasoning that its active ingredients were in the leaves and flowers, not the stalks (Wasson, 1970). In the case of the proposed Fly agaric, most of the mushroom is made up by the cap and Wasson is able to offer little in the way of indication of the caps of the Amanita muscaria when trying to milk the Vedas for evidence.

The Amanita muscaria or Fly-agaric, mushroom

One would think the phenomenal looking Cap of the Fly agaric, which takes up most of the mushroom itself, would be a subject that would receive at least as much reverence as the stalk, if not more, if the Amanita muscaria were indeed the Soma. But in this respect, Wasson was only able to find a few Vedic references (RV.9.27.3; 9.68.4; 9.69.8; 9.71.4; 9.93.3) and devoted less than a page to the subject. Many of the passages cited by Wasson in this regard are made in reference to the God Soma as the “Head and Chief” being infused into the Soma, and have nothing to do with the physical preparation of the ancient sacrament. Soma is the King of Plants in the Vedas.  Clearly in Sanskrit, as in English, “Head” has a variety of applications, and when the Vedic passages that make reference to “Head” are looked at in the context of the verses in which they appear, it is an obvious stretch to interpret any as making reference to a bright red spotted mushroom cap.  Notably, none of the references to “Head” cited by Wasson appear alongside the many references to the preparation of the stalks of Soma in the Vedas, which is where someone would expect them to appear if they were in fact part of the Soma beverage.

A Head = A Mushroom Cap? 

Wasson’s translations in comparison with (Griffith, 1896) shows there is little in way of evidence indicating the Bright red white spotted cap of the Amanita muscaria in the few scant passages he could muster up to make his case.

Wasson RV.9.27.3

This Bull, heavens head, Soma, when pressed, is escorted by masterly men into the vessels, he the all-knowing

RV.9.27.03 (Griffith, 1896)

The men conduct him, Soma, Steer, Omniscient, and the Head of Heaven,
Effused into the vats of wood.

This passage uses ‘head’ in the context of ‘chief’.

Wasson RV.9.68.4

While Soma enters the contact with fingers of the officiants, he protects his head.

RV.9.68.4 (Griffith, 1896)

The stalk is mixed with grain: he comes led by the men together with the sisters, and preserves the Head.

If this were a reference to a mushroom head as Soma, it would be in regards to being pulverized with the stalks, not preserved; this is likely a reference to preparing the soma in the proper way to make sure it was active and not inert. The complete verse indicates an analogy of the mixing and preparation as a birth process, as discussed later in Chapter 6.

Wasson RV.9.69.8

For you are, O Soma juices,… the heads of heaven, carried erect, creators of vital force.

RV. 9.69.8 (Griffith, 1896)

Ye, Soma, are my Fathers, lifted up on high as heads of heaven and makers of the strength of life

The height factor rules a mushroom out in this reference, thus Wasson didn’t include it in his citing.

Wasson 9.71.4

On Soma’s head the cows with full udder mix the best milk in streams.

RV.9.71.4 (Griffith, 1896)

They pour out meath around the Master of the house, Celestial Strengthener of the mountain that gives might;

In whom, through his great powers, oblation-eating cows in their uplifted udder mix their choicest milk.

Here Griffith translates the same phrase as meaning ‘Master of the House’, as in ‘Head’ of the House.

Wasson 9.93.3

The Udder of the cow is swollen; the wise juice is imbued with its streams. In the vessels the cows mix with their milk the murdhan [head]

RV9.93.3 (Griffith, 1896)

Yea, swollen is the udder of the milch-cow: thither in streams goes very sapient Indu.
The kine make ready, as with new-washed treasures, the Head and Chief with milk within the vessels.

To stretch a reference to ‘head’ into a mushroom cap and use that for the basis of your theory of identification seems extreme. As well, Wasson offers no comparable method of mushroom preparation to those described in the Rig Veda (and Avesta). As noted earlier, the Rig Veda describes a process, where plant branches are smashed with rocks – making them green, mixed with milk, honey and barley, poured through strainers – making the stainers green, and producing a green and yellow drink, that stains the drinkers beards green!

As the Vedic scholar John Brough explained of Wasson’s interpretation here in his article ‘Soma and Amanita muscaria‘:

In the RV, references to the amsu- of Soma are frequent, the word being traditionally rendered as ‘stalk’ or ‘stem’… Indeed if Wasson were right, it would be all the more extraordinary that the cap of his mushroom, the cap which provides so many details of his argument, should be thus discarded when the plant comes to be pressed for the ritual… in the numerous Siberian examples… [of mushroom use cited by Wasson]the mushroom is apparently always consumed whole…(Bough, 1971).

Mountain Grown

In reference to cannabis, Wasson noted the “fact that the Rg Veda placed Soma only on the high mountains, where hemp grows everywhere” (Wasson, 1970). This is not the case, what is identified in the Rig Veda  and Avesta references is the best soma comes from the mountains. But, regardless, for this same reason Wasson discounted a variety of Soma candidates. “What a useless business it is for us to go chasing in the valleys after rhubarb, honey, hashish, wild afghan grapes; in hot arid countries after species of Ephedra, Sarcostemma, Periploca!” (Wasson, 1970)

First off, it is difficult to understand how Wasson ever came to the conclusion that the Fly-agaric mushroom is purely a Mountain species. This author has witnessed first-hand wild Fly-agarics growing in coastal sand dunes and valley forests, so his exclusions should have ruled that out along with other candidates. In regards to cannabis, Wasson’s view is based on the situation contemporary with his own time, after thousands of years of cannabis cultivation, not at the composition of the Vedas. Indeed cannabis spread “everywhere” quickly but numbers of sources have seen the Hindu Kush Mountains and Tien Shan Mountains as possible places of Hemp’s origin, both of which have also been suggested as the Aryan’s secondary homeland. Although more recent research has indicated that Cannabis plant evolved super high (on the Tibetan Plateau). “The plant is… reported at altitudes of 10,000 ft. in the Himalays” (Swamy, 1976).

Geographical references in the Rg Veda also indicate that the Soma plant eventually diffused to locations along the banks of the Saravati and Arjikiya rivers. The fertile alluvial soils adjacent to these other rivers that have their headwaters in the Himalayas ‘… are exactly the situations of the wild growth of Bhanga (hemp).’ (Merlin, 1972)

Mountain grown cannabis in China

As Witzel has also noted of Soma’s association with water sources, “ the hymn RV 10.75 has the following stream: The Su_omå ‘the one having good Soma’ …. the modern Sohån/Suwan…” (Witzel, 1999). The widespread distribution of Haoma is referred to in the Avestan tradition as well.

Y.10.11

Thus the life-giving birds launched there

carried you out in various directions:

to Ishkata Upairi.saêna,

to Staêra Starô.sâra,

to Kusrâdha Kusrô.patâdha,

to Pavrâna along the path of the birds,

to the two *White-color Mountains.

Moreover, Wasson ignores comments from the Avestan literature that indicates widespread growth of the plant early on:

    Y.10.17

I praise all the haomas,

even when on the heights of the mountains,

even when in the depths of the streams,

even those in the narrow passes of ravines.

A problem concerning the identity of the A. muscaria with soma, is the rarity of a seasonal mushroom in comparison with the abundance of soma in the original home of the Aryans as described in the Vedas. As Harri Nyberg has noted “the mushroom must have been rare in any proposed Indo-Iranian homelands. In contrast, when the use of soma/haoma began, the Aryans seem to have been inhabiting a region where the to-date unidentified plant was abundant” (Nyberg, 1995).

The Fragrance of Soma

As Dieter Taillieu has commented “haoma and soma are accorded fragrance (Av. hubaoiδi-, Y. 10.4, cf. Skt. surabhintara-) and a mountainous location; the additional reference to river valleys in Y.10.17 is probably… way of saying ‘all haomas, wherever they may be’” (Taillieu, 2002). Taillieu makes a good point in reference to the fragrance of Haoma, something attested to in a variety of passages in both the Vedic and Avestan literature, and which could hardly designate a mushroom:

RV.9.113

O king Soma, O Soma which the priest carefully prepares. High with power that is real, its flowing blends together, together blend the fragrances of the fragrant,
purifying you by the formula, O wild god. Flow, O elixir, for Indra all around!

Y.10.4

I praise the earths, where, O Haoma, you grow,

fragrant, fleetly-moving.

Y.10.4 also has the added description of “fleetly moving”, a description likely identifying a plant that is blown around in the wind, which again would hardly describe a mushroom. To explain inconsistencies with his theory Wasson put forth that the RV.10.85 gave indications of a substitute; “One thinks one drinks Soma because a plant is crushed. The Soma the Brahmans know – that no one drinks”. Because of this Wasson decided to disallow all following passages from the 10th Mandala regarding the identity of Soma in the Vedas. An examination of the verses in Rig Veda 10.85 offers a different interpretation.

10.85.3. – One thinks, when they have brayed the plant, that he hath drunk the Soma’s juice;
Of him whom Brahmans truly know as Soma no one ever tastes.

10.85.4. -Soma, secured by sheltering rules, guarded by hymns in Brhati,
Thou standest listening to the stones none tastes of thee who dwells on earth.

10.85. 5. -When they begin to drink thee then, O God, thou swellest out again.
Vayu is Soma’s guardian God. The Moon is that which shapes the years.

What this situation describes, is a comparison between the earthly soma and the heavenly Soma drunk by the Gods, from the celestial cup of the moon. This is a pervasive theme with soma throughout the Vedas, and as Indologists critical of Wasson’s theory have noted, he often uses these moon references as evidence for a mushroom, which is out of context when searching to identify the ‘plant’ soma. We see this sort of thing taken to an extreme in the works of Clark Heinrich, when he makes statements about the Vedas with out citing the passages concerned  like “common Rig Veda names for Soma are ‘mainstay of the sky,’ ‘navel,’ ‘single eye’ ‘pillar of the sky’…all of which can easily be understood by looking at various photographs of the mushroom” (Heinrich, 2002). Perhaps one has to be on mushrooms to make the connection?  As the reader can see, such references make more metaphoric sense when aligned with the moon, as the context of such passages, has long been accepted. Heinrich particularly of the various writers on mushrooms, takes such symbolism to extremes to make his case throughout his books, although his colleague Mike Crowley deserves some of that credit as well.

Dried Fly-agarics, courtesy of Tom Hatsis.

Dried fly-agaris.

In regards to the reference to the “Soma the Brahmans know”, this may have had to do with the belief of the Brahmans that their preparation of the Soma was magically imbued with powers through the rites of preparation only known to the elite priest class. As well, conceivably the RV.10.85 reference could have been an ancient differentiation between the more common Cannabis sativa and the more potent Cannabis indica which grew on the sides of mountains. Another possibility is that this is a reference to sinsimllia, and perhaps one of the secrets of the Soma cult was holding back the males from pollinating the females?

Watt  felt that by… [1000-800 BCE]  the sexual dimorphism of cannabis was already evident to its cultivators, as well as the superiority of bhanga (mistakenly assigned as female) for cordage, and bhang (mistaken as male) for medical and mystical application. It was also likely about this time that the preparation of ganja (labeled sinsemilla in contemporary North America) was developed by isolating female cannabis plants to prevent fertilization, and increase resin production. (Russo, 2006)

The Moon Plant

The god Soma was often personified as the moon in the sky, which was also the cup of celestial soma which they gods drank from, causing it to empty as the moon became darker through the month, before being magically refilled.

Wasson’s logic is similarly askew when he tries to pass off Vedic verses referring to the ‘Moon’ as the ‘Mainstay of the Sky,’ as references to the Amanita muscaria (RV.9.2.5; 9.72.7; 9.74.2; 9.86.35; 9.86.46; 9.87.2; 9.89.6; 9.108.16; 9.109.6). As noted, in the symbolism of the Vedas, the Moon was the celestial vessel of Soma, which was continually drunk by the gods and replenished by the Sun. This is a clear example of Wasson turning to Vedic references regarding Soma that are clearly not a reference to a plant, to make his case. It was for such twisting of the scriptural meaning that Wasson’s work has been highly criticized by other researchers who are familiar with the Rig Veda.

This has been an issue for sometime in the various descriptions of the plant, as the Indian researcher Joges Chandra Ray noted in his 1939 essay about cannabis The Soma Plant, “The word ‘Soma’ primarily denoted the moon, and secondarily the plant. But the Vedic scholars of the West took it to mean the plant only and descriptions which are appropriate for the moon were wrongly applied to the plant. This confusion gave the wrong lead to the botanists” (Ray, 1939). I suppose it is this particular type of out-of-context twisting of the Vedic texts for interpretation of symbolic imagery indicating the different stages of the life span of the Amanita muscaria which irks me most about Wasson and other proponents of the Fly agaric-Soma theory.

The Single Eye

Likewise for references to the “Single Eye” (RV.1.87.5; 9.9.4; 9.10.8; 9.10.9; 9.97.46), which Wasson ludicrously compares with a photo of a newly forming Amanita rising from the ground, but which actually make reference to the psychological state caused by the sacred beverage. Just as the God Soma entered the beverage soma, so too did Soma enter the devoted imbiber, enabling devotee and God to see with a “Single Eye”. Moreover, this identification is almost identical to Zoroastrian references to the use of Haoma preparations for opening the “eye of the soul”. Gherardo Gnoli recorded of the Persian tradition that: “bang was… an ingredient of the ‘illuminating drink’ (rōšngar xwarišn) that allowed Wištāsp to see the ‘great xwarrah’ and the ‘great mystery.’ This mang ī wištāspān (Pahlavi Vd. 15.14…) was … an integral part of the ecstatic practice aimed at opening the ‘eye of the soul’ (gyān čašm….)” (Gnoli, 1979). This situation occurs after the prohibitions of haoma by Zoroaster, which were thought to have resulted in an altered recipe that has given us the ephedra preparation of today, and in this case cannabis, according to Gnoli was sometimes mixed with the ephedra based haoma, and at others wine. (A situation I will explain in a later article in this series, and which is examined at length in my book Cannabis and the Soma Solution)

A similar reference to the “eye” is found in the Indian Aitareya Brahmanam, “When.. the Adhvaryu hands over … the Soma cup to drink… to the Hotar, he receives it with the… mantra… (By the words): ‘This is a good which has knowledge; here is a good which has knowledge; in me is a good which has knowledge; ruler of the eye, protect my eye’ the Hotar drinks Soma from the Maitravaruna graha. (Then he repeats): ‘The eye with the mind is called hither.’” Martin Haug in his translation of this passage, noted “This formula resembles very much one of the most sacred prayers of the Parsis… which is particularly repeated when the Zotar priest (the Hotar of the Brahmans) is drinking the Homa (Soma) juice…” (Haug, 1863). In relation, in India the drinking of bhang by devotees is still believed to open up the “eye” of Shiva, i.e the “third-eye.”

The Red Soma? 

Also questioned by many scholars are the Vedic references that have been interpreted by the Wasson camp as identifying the colour of the Soma as “red”. The Vedic term for ‘red’ ‘aruna’ is only applied to Soma when he is referred to as a bull, “the bull is ‘red’” (Wasson, 1970).  The colour generally applied to Soma in the Vedas is “hari” and this is usually interpreted as referring to colours ranging anywhere from golden to yellow and  green; “there are numerous non-Soma hymns in the texts where hari means only one shade, that is greenish or greenish-yellow” (Swamy, 1976). Wasson tries to work this Vedic term for shades of green and yellow in his favour with the comment that:

Hari is not only a color word: the intensity of the color is also expressed by it. It is dazzling, brilliant, lustrous resplendent, flaming…. The mythological horses of the sun-god were hari: in this context the word is usually rendered by ‘bay’ or ‘chestnut’, but one doubts whether any mundane color such as ‘bay’ would describe the steeds of the sun. They are flaming and full of brio. (Wasson, 1970)

Thus we can see to what lengths Wasson will go to make his point, unable to find a Vedic translation that suits his view he resorts to a novel interpretation of a text that has nothing to do with Soma! Wasson tries to disregard the accepted interpretation in a footnote with the comment that: “Occasionally in later times hari came to include ‘green’ among its meanings, but this usage seems not to be Rg Vedic, except possibly in the late hymns that we exclude from consideration” (Wasson, 1970). I suppose an argument for any plant candidate could be made, based on the exclusion of the Vedic texts as one saw fit! Mike Crowley, more recently, offering no verifications outside of Wasson, also weakly goes with, hari identifying “colors from bright red to tawny brown” (Crowley, 2019) offering no sources of this translation but Wasson.

In Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction (2007) we read “hari- ‘green/yellow’”; In A Comparative Grammar of Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin, Volume 1, (1869) “Skr. hari (green) ; In A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872) “hari, hiri, hirana), green, of a green colour; greenish yellow”. Note this last source, is often used by Crowley, saving when it disagrees with his position, which he just leaves without citation lacking support for red and purple outside Wasson for hari. Reddish brown, does occur in some examples, but never as the first designation for the colour associated for the word, and never as “bright red”.

English translations of the Rig Veda list the colour of Soma as golden, purple, yellow and green. Likewise with English translations of the Yasnas, where the colour of Haoma is referred to green and gold throughout the texts, all of which suit quite well the colours of ripe hemp.

The Vedic description for the color of Soma include the word hari, which may be interpreted as meaning ‘green or greenish yellow’. At Indore in Madra Pradesh the male (or more correctly the female) form of the hemp plant is called hari. In addition MacDonell and Keith also designated babbru (brown) and aruna (ruddy) as possible color of the Soma plant. These color interpretations also could fit the hemp plant. (Merlin, 1972)

Pissing Soma? Urine for a real treat!

The pivotal point of Wasson’s identification of the Fly agaric as Soma were Vedic references that Wasson viewed as referring to the practice of drinking a priest’s urine after he had consumed Soma, Wasson’s so-called “second form”. To Wasson this indicated the use of the Fly agaric, for its hallucinogenic effects would still be present and accounts of Siberian Shamans record the ritual ingestion of such mushroom-infused urine up until modern times. Other drugs as well, can be recycled this way, and it has been reported in the news that Some Meth Addicts Turn to Urine to Get High, one can only imagine the weird shit going on in that scene…. But i digress.

Its actually another bodily fluid depicted in this image of ‘the birth of Skanda’ as can be seen by the arrangement of Shiva’s lingam, but I could not resist the visual.

In regards to what Wasson saw as the two types of Soma, Swamy explained:

Wasson sees the mention of the dual forms of Soma … he observes the Vedic commentators not knowing that the fly-agaric was the Vedic Soma reached unsatisfactory  interpretations. Therefore he does not agree that the first form is “the simple juice of the Soma plant, and the second form is the juice after it has been mixed with water and milk or curds.” Because the fly-agaric is not used this way and because Wasson himself is convinced the fly-agaric is the Rg-vedic Soma…” (Swamy, 1976).

This view of alleged Vedic urine drinking as the “second form” has been shared by a variety of other researchers. The following excerpt is typical of those quoted by Wasson in this respect, and this particular passage was considered crucial by him regarding references to psychoactive urine in the Vedas:

Rig Veda 9.74.4

Butter and milk are drawn from animated cloud; thence Amrta is produced, centre of sacrifice.
Hini the Most Bounteous Ones, ever united, love; him as our Friend the Men who make all swell rain down.

Wasson’s translation of the same verse:

Soma, storm cloud imbued with life, is milked of ghee, milk. Navel of the Way, Immortal Principle, he sprang into life in the far distance. Acting in concert, those charged with the Office, richly gifted, do full honour to Soma. The swollen men piss the flowing [Soma].

The next verse, 9.74.5, is left out by Wasson, “The Soma-stalk hath roared, following with the wave: he swells with sap for man the skin which Gods enjoy”, which is a reference to the banging of the stones, for making soma, which themselves were deified, and the release of the ‘sap’ from the ‘skin’ of soma in making the drink of the Gods.

It should be noted in regard to the different translations of the same verse, that in order to accept Wasson’s theory on the Soma, you also have to accept his novel translations of the Vedic texts! In this particular passage, which he felt offered compelling evidence of his case, he even had to add the term ‘Soma’ to the end of it himself to make the point he wanted to express. Wasson stated that; “If the final clause of this verse bears the meaning that I suggest for it, then it alone suffices to prove my case” (Wasson, 1970). Wasson clearly makes an enormous intellectual stretch when he interprets the reference to ‘rain’ as a reference to Soma infused ‘piss’. As Swamy notes, earlier Vedic commentators, such as Sayana, identifies rain. Swamy, who pointed to some of the creativity involved in Wasson’s translations of Vedic texts, explained “I am inclined to understand the context in the traditional commentator’s sense not for the sake of following tradition but because I see in it the least degree of scope for reconciliation” (Swamy, 1976). As Waradpande also noted in The Rgvedic Soma:

Wasson alleges that the Vedic Rishis, like the Siberian tribes, used to drink urine of the Sage who had drunk Soma. This meaning is culled out by him from 9.74.4. But there is no warrant for Wasson’s rendering avamehanti as urinates. Even if mehanti is taken as urinates, avanehanti would mean urinates down. This is redundant as nobody urinates upwards. Further, Wasson has shown no reference that this urine was drunk.

The hymn in fact is clearly intelligible as applying to the moon as well as the plant thus. (Waradpande, 1995)

For the sake of discussion, R.V.9.74.4 if interpreted and translated in Wasson’s favour, could also be a symbolic magical gesture aimed at bestowing the Soma plant with the rains which helped it to grow and which was believed to have been divinely sent, i.e., when they drank the Soma, through imitative magic the Gods drank with them in Heaven, and when they passed it back out again, so did the Gods as well, resulting in the rains from heaven, causing the Soma to grow. Rain, was a crucial element for the authors of the Vedas, as ancient people started settling down they found that the two elements of nature that were crucial for cultivation were the rain and the sun. This is still true in India today where beliefs about the coming of the Monsoons are ripe with religious fertility symbolism. Thus for the Soma farming people the rain-god Indra gained in prominence and became the king of the gods. Often rain was accompanied by storms, which personified became the Maruts, the followers of Indra. As Stausberg has also noted:

…one effect of Indra’s inordinate consumption of soma on his bladder, which he needs to empty, thereby releasing thundering streams of fertilizing liquid all over the world in the form of rain…Rigveda 8.4.9-10 (to Indra)…’drink the soma according to wish! Pissing it down day after day’”…. In the Vendidad, a… Avestan text on ritual cleansing, we are told that one of the places where the earth is most happy is where people and animals urinate the most and where it is cultivated, which shows there is a link between urine and fertility…. Vedividad 3.6 ‘Where… of this earth is it happiest? Then Ahura mazda said: wherever animals, small and large, piss the most.(Stausberg, 2004)

It should be noted that other translations are less favourable for piss than the one Stausberg chose though. 

8.4.9  Indra, thy friend is fair of form and rich in horses, cars, and kine.
He evermore hath food accompanied by wealth, and radiant joins the company.
8.4.10  Come like a thirsty antelope to the drinking-place: drink Soma to thy heart’s desire.
Raining it down, O Maghavan, day after day, thou gainest thy surpassing might.

In reference to 9.74.4 Wasson pointed to the work of Renou, a French scholar who spent a lifetime immersed in the Vedas, stating that Renou “discerned that the ‘swollen’ men had full bladders and that they were urinating Soma. But to give meaning to the sentence he introduced the gods of rain, the Maruts” (Wasson, 1970). Renou’s interpretation is similar to the one both Stausberg and I myself have suggested; Wasson agreed with the first part of Renou’s interpretation, but not the second. Wasson argued that Gods are not referred to, but rather “men” are, whom Wasson identifies as the Soma Priests, bringing his interpretation “swollen men piss the flowing [Soma]” although as noted he had to add ‘Soma” to the sentence to establish his point!

Let us pause for a moment and dwell on a rather odd figure of speech. The blessings of the fertilizing rain are likened to a shower of urine. The storm-clouds fecundate the earth with their urine. Vedic scholars have lived so long with their recalcitrant text, and so close to it, that they remark no longer on an analogy that calls for explanation. Urine is normally something to cast away and turn from, second in this respect only to excrement. In the Vedic poets the values are reversed and urine is an ennobling metaphor to describe the rain. The values are reversed, I suggest, because the poets in Vedic India were thinking of urine as the carrier of the Divine inebriant, the bearer of amrta. This would explain the role that urine – human and bovine – has played through the centuries as the medico-religious disinfectant of the Indo-Iranian world, the Holy Water of the East. (Wasson, 1970)

In reference to Wasson’s interpretation of Rig Veda 9.74.4 Flattery and Schwartz contended that “even interpreting this literally (and supposing the ‘men’ to refer to priests, which is not at all certain), there is still nothing to suggest the drinking of such urine…[N]one of the data presented by Wasson on the subject of urine drinking has any relevance for soma” (1989). Another important point in this regard is made by one early reviewer of Wasson’s book:

Where Wasson errs is in supposing that the Vedic soma was drunk in the same way [as the Siberian urine]. To justify such a thesis he is forced to suppose that Vedic priests impersonated their gods: that when the text says, “I offer soma to you, Indra; drink of the good soma,” someone was offering amanita juice to a priest.

Actually, there is no shred of evidence for priestly impersonations in the Rigveda. Where priests do act in persona dei (as they do in some forms of Hinduism and Buddhism) the procedure is clearly revealed by the language of the ritual and litany. Wasson finds one out of the 35,000 lines of the Rigveda that seems to say the priests are micturating diluted soma. I interpret the line [RV.9.86.2]…to mean that bearers of the soma pots are pouring the fluid down into the filter-covered trough. One cannot hang the explanation of a major cult on a single image, which may be metaphorical, taken out of context. (Ingalls, 1971)

Wasson explained that a Hindu reference to urine drinking occured in the much later text, written about a millennia or more after the Vedas, the Mahabharata, when the god Indra, disguised as an outcaste, gives the hero Uttanka, amrta (ambrosia), to drink in the form of urine, which is duly rejected.

In the… Mahabharata… there occurs one episode – an isolated episode of unknown lineage – that bears with startling clarity on our Second Form [i.e. Fly agaric enriched urine]. It was introduced into the text perhaps a thousand