The Secret Substance Soma: Bringing Human Beings Closer to the Gods
Soma is both the name of a god and a substance that is found in Hindu mythology. As a deity, Soma is one of the most important gods in the Rigveda. Soma is also considered to be a primeval being, even by the standards of the Hindu gods.
As for the substance, soma is said to be a drink that was originally consumed by the Hindu gods, though it was later stolen for mankind. Soma the god and soma the drink are intertwined with each other, the former being a personification of the latter.
Soma, Hindu God. ( vedicgoddess)
According to the Puranas, Soma is often depicted as a god riding a three-wheeled chariot that is pulled by a team of 10 white horses. Other depictions of this god include that of a celestial bull, a giant rising from the waters, a bird, the lord of plants, and an embryo.
In Hindu belief, Soma is an ancient deity who is in charge of a number of important aspects of life. One of these is the supervision of Hindu religious sacrifices. In some texts, Soma is also associated with the moon. In addition to that, Soma is believed to be a bringer of fortune and health. Soma is believed to have power over the mind and the ability to activate speech, hence he is sometimes known as ‘Vacaspati’, meaning ‘lord of speech’ as well.
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‘Soma, Hindu God of the Moon.’ ( CC BY NC SA 2.0 )
Soma has often been compared to the Greek Dionysus and the Roman Bacchus, due to the pleasure aspect that is attached to him. Soma’s role as a god of pleasure can be seen in the belief that he is the presiding deity of the Soma creeper, the plant from which soma juice is traditionally believed to be derived.
This juice has been compared to the ambrosia of Greek mythology, and was said to have been originally consumed by the Hindu gods in order for them to gain their immortality. There are a number of myths that involve the gods and soma. For instance, prior to his battle with the great dragon Vritra, the god Indra had drank rivers of soma so that he would have the strength required to overcome his adversary.
The Food of the Gods on Olympus (1530). ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )
In one myth, soma was stolen by Agni, the god of fire, and was given to human beings. As a sacred drink, soma was supposedly consumed during rituals by the priestly class in ancient times. When it is drunk by mortals outside a ritual context, soma is said to possess uplifting qualities, and boost the energy and alertness of its drinker.
Thus, soma is often said to bring human beings closer to the gods. Although soma is depicted in the Hindu scriptures as an important component of divine worship, it seems that nobody really knows for certain what soma actually is.
Agni, the fire god. ( Public Domain )
What is Soma?
There is no consensus as to what soma is, and numerous speculations have been made regarding this substance over the years. Some have argued that soma causes hallucinations, and that it was probably derived from a hallucinogenic substance. Thus, candidates for soma that fall under this category include cannabis, opium, and hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Others have proposed that soma was something more common, and was not a hallucinogenic substance at all. Some ideas include milk, honey, and pomegranates. Yet others have speculated that soma was not a substance on its own, but was formed through the combination of several things.
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The question of what soma actually was may never be resolved, and the debate may continue well into the future. Still, archaeological investigations might add a new dimension to this debate.
It has been reported that in Turkmenistan, a large shrine dating to the 2nd millennium BC was discovered. Within what is believed to have been a private room, ceramic bowls with traces of cannabis and Ephedra have been found.
A gymnosperm shrub. The source of ephedrine. One of the possible sources of soma. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
It has been suggested that the priests at the shrine were consuming a hallucinogenic drink, perhaps as part of their rituals. The archaeological findings in Turkmenistan may provide clues or even hard evidence that could help explain what soma actually is.
Top image: An image of the god Soma and its representations. Photo source: wifelipstick.blogspot
By Wu Mingren
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