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SOMA - Divine Mushroom of Immortality

R. Gordon Wasson

Pages: 382
Price: $60-150 (Out of Print)
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, INC
Pub Date: 1968
ISBN: 0931146143

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Table of Contents >
1. Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality
2. The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant
3. Northern Eurasia and the Fly Agaric
Exhibits and Index
Citations From the RgVeda
Description >
Wasson aroused considerable attention by advancing the thesis that the sacred plant called SOMA in the ancient Rig Veda tests of India is really a hallucinogen is mushroom, the fly-agaric. His presentation throws a fascinating light on the role of hallucinogenic plants in religious ritual.
Reviews/Excerpts >

According to the author, Soma would be the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) ... which, has been known since the 18th century, was used by most of the paleo-Asiatic peoples for ritual consumption and to which they devoted a veritable cult because of its hallucinogenic properties ... Mr. Wasson's work establishes, in our opinion convincingly, that among all the candidates put forward for representing Soma, Amanita muscaria is by far the most plausible. - Claude Levi-Strauss, L'Homme


In a word, my belief is that Soma is the Divine Mushroom of Immortality, and that in the early days of our culture, before we made use of reading and writing, when the RgVeda was being composed, the prestige of this miraculous mushroom ran by word of mouth far and wide throughout Eurasia, well beyond the regions where it grew and was worshi pped. (Chapter 1: The Problem, page 9)

There is I think an inference that we may draw: a plant with properties that could be plausibly named the Herb of Immortality responded to one of man's deepest desire s in the early stage of his intellectual development. The superb fly-agaric gave him a glimpse of horizons beyond any that he knew in his harsh struggle for survival, of planes of existence far removed and above his daily round of besetting cares. It contributed to the shaping of his mythological world and his religious life. (Epilogue, page 210)

On the contrary I now suggest that the source and focus of diffusion of all these myths and tales and figures of speech-all this poetic imagery-were the birch forests of Eurasia. The peoples who emigrated from the forest belt to the southern latitudes took with them vivid memories of the herb and the imagery. The renown of the Herb of Immortality and the Tree of Life spread also by word of mouth far and wide, and in the South where the birch and the fly-agaric were little more than cherished tales generations and a thousand miles removed from the source of inspiration, the concepts were still stirring the imaginations of poets, story-tellers, and sages. In these alien lands, far from the birch forests of Siberia, botanical substitutions were made for Herb and Tree. Here is where absurdities were introduced into the legends, where fabulous variations proliferated, where peoples who had never known the North such as the Semites were influenced by the ideas and in one way or another incorporated them into their religious traditions. The end-products of these extravaganzas have caused scholars much (and I think needless) trouble as they subjected them to sober exegesis and tried to reconcile them. (Epilogue, page 215)

[Did] the Mithraic beliefs and rites come down from the forest of what we now call Siberia? Let us look again at what is known of the Orphic mysteries, and reconsider the archetype of our own Holy Agape. On what element did the original devotees commune, long before the Christian era? Certainly the overt vocabulary relating to the birch and the fly-agaric carried great prestige over millennia throughout the south and east of Asia: the Tree of Life, the Pillar of the World, the Axis of the World, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil-all these were variations stemming back to the birch and fly-agaric of the northern forests. The Herb (or Plant) of Life, the Herb of Immortality, the Fruit of the Tree of Life, the Divine Mushroom of Immortality-these are alternatives ultimately representing the fly-agaric, no matter how far removed the poet or sage or king might be from the real thing. In remote China we have seen the devotees of the Manichaean sect as late as the 12th century eating `red mushrooms' in such quantity as to arouse the indignation of a pillar of the Chinese Establishment: is not this an echo of Siberian shamanism, not having passed direct from Siberia to China, but tortuously, through successive Middle Eastern religions, until we reach the last of Mani's followers, far from his Iranian home? (Epilogue, page 220)

CSP's Entheogen Chrestomathy entry for Soma

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