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Soma

In the vedic scriptures of early Hinduism, Soma refers to a plant, an intoxicating beverage made from that plant, and a god, the personified plant. The god is also the plant and the drink; there is no difference between them. The plant is the god and the drink is the god and the plant is the drink -- they are all three the same thing. Soma is inspiration for poets, and the blood of animals, the sap of plants. Soma is a lunar deity, and the underworld. Soma is depicted as a bull or bird, or sometimes an embryo, but rarely an adult human.

Soma is similar to ambrosia; it is what the gods drink, and what made them deities. Indra and Agni are known for drinking massive amounts of Soma. Mortals also drink it; it gave them hallucinations. The plant may be Ephedra vulgaris. R Gordon Wasson and many other researches believe that Soma may be the mushroom [amanita muscaria]. The Persians had a similar drink called Haoma (see below). In both Persia and India the Soma/Haoma making rituals died out when the early Aryan forms of these religions were reformed by Zoroaster and by later Brahminical practice.

The moon is the cup from which the gods drink Soma, and so Soma became identified with the lunar deity Chandra. A waxing moon meant Soma was recreating himself, ready to be drunk again. Alternatively, Soma's twenty-seven wives were daughters of Daksha, who felt he paid too much attention to just one of his wives, Rohini. He cursed him to wither and die, but the wives intervened and the death became periodic and temporary, and is symbolized by the waxing and waning of the moon.

Soma kidnapped Tara, wife of Brihaspati. This began a war, and Brahma eventually forced Soma to let her go. She gave birth to his son, Budha.

The drink Soma was kept and distributed by the Gandharvas.

Haoma

Haoma is the ancient Iranian (Persian) form of the word 'soma', the intoxicating and invigorating drink of the gods which was central to early Aryan religious ritual. The making of soma/haoma from a plant is described in detail in the Rigveda, and is recorded in early Iranian texts. The identity of the plant is not known for certain.

The reforms of the prophet Zoroaster rejected the making of Haoma on moral grounds.


Soma and Psychiatry in Huxley

The term "Soma" was used in Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World (1932) in which it describes a drug. This is an 'opium of the people' that replaces religion in an oppressive futuristic science-based society. Soma is a pill consumed as an anti-depressant by workers who lead emotionally repressed and regimented lives. The use of the term satirically refers to the revived interest in ancient Aryan culture at the time. Huxley's society is caste based, like that of Brahminical India.

Huxley's soma was taken by the Anti-psychiatry movement in the 1960s as a model for their claim that anti-depressants and other drugs functioned to emotionally control people whose distress and mental illness arose from the oppressive nature of modern society.



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