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Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, (Ethno-Mycological Studies) Paperback – 1972


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Product Details

  • Series: Ethno-Mycological Studies (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 381 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156838001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156838009
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,260,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Ian M. Slater on September 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is the now classic attempt to identify the mysterious god / plant / substance of the Sanskrit Vedas as the fly agaric mushroom, a fungus known to have mood-altering hallucinogenic properties when properly prepared and consumed. Wasson argues that the cryptic descriptions of the Soma can be explained by the shape and colors of the mushroom, while its effects explain its association with divine powers, and its use in the sacrificial rituals to contact the gods. The conclusion has been widely accepted, and bitterly disputed, with a number of opponents returning, armed with new information, to earlier proposals.

The earlier views are the subject of a substantial section of this thick volume, a survey of the nineteenth and twentieth century literature by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, who is now writing as Wendy Doniger. In later writings, Doniger has supported more strongly Wasson's conclusion that Soma was originally a fungus, although admitting to some uncertainty as to which fungus, and to whether the sacred species might have shifted with time and availability. This survey is in itself a useful reference, and Doniger's translations of the some of the Rig-Veda Soma Hymns in her selection from "The Rig-Veda" for the Penguin Classics is a helpful companion as well.

(For the full set of such hymns, I know of only one English version, R.T.H. Griffith's aging complete translation of the Rig Veda -- second edition 1896 -- which, among other problems, accepted Max Mueller's identification of Soma with the Ephedra plant. The theory would make more sense if the species Mueller named was in fact the pharmacologically active Ma Huang variety, instead of just a relative.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on February 20, 2006
Format: Unknown Binding
_SOMA: Divine Mushroom of Immortality_, No. 1 in the Ethno-mycological Studies series, by maverick investment banker turned ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson is a fascinating account of the role played by the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) in the religious development of the Indo-European (Aryan) peoples. Wasson, who wrote extensively on the role of hallucinogenic mushrooms, developed a fascination with the mushroom when he and his wife Valentina Pavlovna, a Russian pediatrician, came upon some wild mushrooms and noticed their entirely different response to the mushrooms. Wasson who was of Western European ancestry was a natural mycophobe; however, his wife, a Russian, picked the mushrooms and later used them in her food. Together Wasson and Valentina Pavlovna wrote a book detailing their experiences with the mushroom called _Mushrooms, Russia & History_. Wasson also was to undergo a hallucinatory experience with a shaman in Mexico leading to his writing about the role of the hallucinogenic mushroom in Mesoamerica.

This book principally discusses the role of the hallucinogenic mushroom in the writings of the earliest Indo-Europeans (Aryans), in the Rg Veda (as Soma) and the Zend Avesta (of the Zoroastrians, as Haoma). This book also discusses the role of the fly agaric in Europe, Eurasia, and Siberia among the shamans there. The book is divided into three parts, "Soma: The Divine Mushroom of Immortality" which outlines the role of the fly agaric as Soma in primitive Indo-European religion, "The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant" written by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty which explains various theories concerning the origins of soma in the Rg Veda, and "Northern Eurasia and the Fly-Agaric" which explains the role of the fly agaric among shamans in Siberia as well as in Northern Europe.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By naeler on July 9, 2013
Format: Paperback
This is a good edition on good paper and with very good illustrations throughout.
It is worth the price for Part Two - The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant, by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty.
What is the Soma of the Vedas? It is one of the world's great mysteries. This book is a detective story. It is very academic and well researched, but it is not boring. A great read.
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