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Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, (Ethno-Mycological Studies) Paperback – 1972
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Top Customer Reviews
One of the fundamental works of ethnobotany and ethnomycology... Robert Gordon Wasson is the best
One of the holy grails of the studies of entheobotany,... Grab it if you see it...
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.
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. The book concludes with a series of exhibits from various writings concerning both the fly agaric in Siberia, the linguistic aspects of the fly agaric, and the theory that the fly agaric was the source of the beserk rage of the Scandinavian warriors.
The first section of the book discusses the role of the fly agaric as "soma" in the Rg Veda, the earliest Aryan writings. The author traces the evidence and attempts to show that indeed the soma mentioned in the Rg Veda that was later mysteriously lost was the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria). The author shows evidence in the form of "roots, leaves, blossoms, and seeds of soma", all referring to aspects of the divine mushroom. The author also discusses the role of the fly agaric as the "haoma" mentioned in the Zend Avesta of Zoroaster. In addition, the author mentions the two forms of soma, the first as the mushroom consumed and the second as the urine of an individual who has eaten the mushroom, retaining the hallucinogenic properties of the mushroom. The author also discusses the role of the hallucinogenic mushroom among the Manichaeans and various other early heretical sects. In particular, he notes the Christian revulsion for the mushroom eaters, as can be seen in the writings of Saint Augustine who originally was involved in Manichaeanism. The author also discusses the role of the hallucinogenic mushroom among the Chinese, where it became known as the "divine mushroom of immortality" among the Taoists. This section contains many beautiful pictures illustrating the mushroom in folklore and tradition as well as pictures of the fly agaric itself in its natural environment.
The second section of the book written by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty relates the various theories which have been proposed to explain the origin of soma. Among others the author discusses theories that linked soma to alcohol and to bhang (marijuana) in ancient Persia. The author relates the development of these theories among Europeans as they sought to understand primitive Indo-European origins in the Nineteenth Century.
The third section of the book discusses the mushroom in Siberia among the shamans, but also the mushroom in Europe. The author notes the practice of the shamans of drinking the urine of an individual who had consumed the hallucinogenic mushroom. He also argues contrary to the beliefs of the comparativist Mircea Eliade that drug use among shamans does not represent a form of decadence and degeneration. Among the Europeans, the author notes the mycophobic tendencies of Western Europeans, arguing that they refer to the mushroom as the "toadstool" and look upon it with disgust. The frog and the snake are also seen as symbols associated with the mushroom and have traditionally been viewed as evil creatures. In contrast, Victorians came to see the toad as a benign creature. The author argues that the mushroom played no role in the development of the Celtic peoples and among the Germans. He also suggests that contrary to a thesis advanced by certain others that the beserk rage of the Scandinavian warriors was not linked to the fly agaric. In addition, while presenting a picture of an early Christian fresco depicting a "mushroom tree" in the Garden of Eden, the author argues that this is not the hallucinogenic mushroom and that the early Christians were not a mushroom cult. There is little reason to think that the Tree of Knowledge represented the hallucinogenic mushroom.
The book concludes with various exhibits from the writings of different individuals referencing the Siberian use of the mushroom. The author also exhibits writings showing the controversy surrounding the alleged use of the mushroom among Scandinavian warriors. Interestingly, during the Second World War, it was rumored that certain Russian soldiers partook of the mushroom in order to provoke battle lust amongst them.
This book provides a fascinating account of the "divine mushroom of immortality". It is an important contribution to our understanding of primitive religion and the role that hallucinogenic substances play in the development of that belief.