Soma (drink)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As Soma ( Sanskrit सोम soma , m. , Avestan haoma ; proto- Indo-Iranian * sauma- : the "squeezed" juice) is in the Rig Veda , the oldest part of the Indian Vedas , a strong drink of the gods and with sacrifices -used ritual beverage mentioned . The name denotes both a deity, a plant and the drink made from it with an intoxicating effect, sometimes mixed with (sour) milk. The ninth book of the Rig Veda is exclusively devoted to the great deeds of Soma. Soma is a complex principle that connects different levels. Soma is usually depicted as a bird or as a heavenly bull, as well as in one of ten white horses. His attributes are lotus and club. An eagle or a falcon is said to have brought the Soma from heaven to earth.

The early Iranians , including the people of the Persians , knew the drink under the name variant Haoma or Hauma , which is common in the Avestan language . In the Avesta , the sacred book of Zoroastrianism , a hymn ( Yasht ) is dedicated to Haoma . The original Soma / Haoma cult died out in India and Persia after the earlier religion in India was incorporated into Hinduism and was reformed in Persia by Zarathustra . References to the Soma cult can be found above all in the post-Islamic, mystical-religious literature of Persia (see Sufism , Persian literature ), in which the Jām-e Jam (جام جم), the chalice of the Jamschid , is very popular as a significant symbolism for " becoming one with the divine".


Soma is sometimes interpreted as the earthly equivalent of Amrita (Sanskrit "immortality") or the ambrosia in Greek mythology . While the latter two are reserved for the gods and give them immortality, soma can also be drunk by humans. The hallucinations associated with it were interpreted as access to the sphere of the gods. Like many other gods, Soma is also referred to in the Vedas as the "King of the Gods", the god of gods, plants and the world. He sees through all beings; God is not fooled.

In Hauma , the word Hom is synonymous . The events at which soma appears most likely to have been used are the initiations of the pre-Islamic Iranian rulers. This is indicated by the use of King Vistaspas of Hom and 'Mang' during his initiation , which is remembered by the Zoroastrians ( Nouruz ) during the New Year celebrations. A reflection of the initiation of kings with Soma can perhaps be found in Plutarch's life by Artaxerxes III. (1–3): “[...] a short while after the death of Darius II , the new king carried out an expedition to Pasargadae so that he could receive the royal inauguration at the hands of the Persian priests . Here there is a sanctuary of a warlike goddess who could be compared to Athena . Into this sanctuary the aspirant must go to initiation, and after having removed his own proper robe, he must put on the robe that Cyrus the Elder wore before he became king; then he has to eat a fig cake, chew some turpentine and drink a bowl of sour milk. What else is celebrated is unknown to outsiders ”. Zoroaster also put on a dress when he came to the hom fluid, and it appears his father Porushasp did so too when he approached the hom, as did Arda Wiraz. This suggests that changing clothes was a regular feature of soma drinking in the introduction of the Iranian rulers.

The gods themselves are also described as soma drinkers. The intoxicating influence of the drink on the gods Indra and Agni is described particularly often . The god Indra, for example, owes its tremendous powers to the Soma. If he drinks soma, he completely fills earth and sky. With his help, Indra succeeds in defeating the "demon" Vritra . The two Ashvins owe their immortality to the Soma. The dead drink from him too. The god Varuna is considered to be his guardian, as are the Gandharvas , who also prepare and serve the drink.

Soma himself is also considered the fertility and creator god and as such is closely related to water. He is often called the father of the gods as well as friend and protector of men and gods. It is said to be the tastiest of all potions and to confer bliss ( ananda ) . It also acts as an aphrodisiac, has healing properties and brings courage to warriors before battle. It is the inner life juice of all beings, the juice in the plants and the blood of the gods, humans and animals. It also promotes friendship and connection between humans ( brahmins ) and gods. In some places it is also mentioned that he can deliver people from their sins. Brahmins who drink from it are said to be able to kill enemies just by looking. Many good deeds are ascribed to Soma. He is expected to do useful and good deeds to people, to keep misfortunes and resentment away, to give strength and possessions, to warn of enemies, in short, to promise them everything that is positive. He is described as benevolent, wise, insightful, kind, victorious, helpful, generous, and generous. Along with Agni and Brihaspati , he is one of the “ liturgical ” gods of the Vedic epoch.

Soma as the moon god

The name Soma is associated with the Indian moon god Chandra or the moon disk in the sky. The moon is the cup from which the gods drink soma. It is full when the moon is full and emptied when the moon is new. From full moon to new moon, the gods drink an equal sip every day. From new moon to full moon, the cup fills up again by itself.

Another popular myth about the origin of the different phases of the moon: Soma marries the 27 daughters of the god Daksha . However, since he loves the Rohini more than his other wives, Daksha's daughters complain to their father. Thereupon he is angry and pronounces a curse on Soma, which should make him completely emaciated. At the request of his daughters, who have pity on their husband, Daksha converts his curse, since he cannot completely take it back, into a periodic emaciation of the moon.

Soma today

In today's Hinduism , soma no longer plays a role in the lives of Hindus. He is only the Lokapala (guardian of a point of the compass) of the northeast. The god becomes superfluous over time, as the Vedic sacrifice has been replaced by pujas and the gods in today's Hinduism no longer draw their power from soma, but from the sacrifice that people make them.


The soma is said to have had both mental and physical effects. The effect of the soma juice is described in the Veda as in the Avesta as mad , with less meaning as "intoxicating", but greater than "inspire". There can be no talk of an actual somatic intoxication, much less an orgiastic cult of soma. The whole sacrificial ceremony of the Indians and the Parsees is too solemn and dignified and rigid for that.

In the fighter it revives the sunken courage (RV X, 83.7), in humans it brings strength to life (I ,, 91.7; IX, 66.30; X, 25.7). Above all, however, it affects the inner being and the spirit of the victim. He enlightens and widens the inner eye of the seer who is searching for truth (I, 91,1), awakens the sacred words and thoughts (I, 87,5; among others). Soma is referred to as the actual divine drink (IX, 51,3; among others), which calls them from heaven (IX, 80,1) and invites them (IX, 25,3 among others). In summary, one can say that the Soma had physically strengthening, heart-invigorating and thought-clearing effects. They helped the Rishi to grasp an otherworldly reality with an intuitive mind and to express it in his poetry and singing.

Certain passages in the Rigveda , viewed on their own, make the reader think of the effects of hallucinogens . So in Rig Veda VIII, 48: “We drank the soma; we have become immortal, we have seen the light; we have found the gods. ”Or in Rig Veda IX:“ Your juices, O purified Soma, pervading everything, as fast as thoughts, move by themselves like the offspring of mares hurrying along. The heavenly, winged sweet juices, exciters of great serenity, shine in the vessel [...] ”. Another hint is in Rig Veda VIII, 6: “Because now in your intoxication, oh Soma, I feel like a rich man. Step forward to thrive! "


The composition of the soma has long been puzzled. The Vedas themselves only give rough guidelines. Soma is a plant from the mountains. This means that a number of raw materials assumed in the past are no longer available, such as the steppe rue (Peganum harmala) .

A clear identification of Soma has not yet been achieved. It cannot be ruled out that these were preparations made from different plants and that Soma was just a kind of generic term.

For a long time the theory put forward by the American ethnologist and ethnomycologist R. Gordon Wasson (1898–1986) that soma was a toadstool preparation was considered a promising hypothesis. Other authors suggest that soma may have been an alcoholic drink . Mead made from honey is mentioned as well as pressed and fermented rhubarb stalks or even hopped beer . The description of the effect does not seem to be compatible with that of alcohol. The Rigveda also clearly distinguishes Soma from alcoholic beverages, which are called surā .

Recently, mushrooms of the genus Psilocybe , which are also used as intoxicants in other cultures, have been considered.

The Indologist Karl Friedrich Geldner (1852–1929) assumed that Soma was obtained from the ephedra plant ( seaweed ). Geldner, who translated the entire Rig Veda into German in 1923:

“The soma plant can only be one species of ephedra , probably ephedra intermedia or pachyclada . This is still called Hum in and around Afghanistan to this day. It is a stiff bush, three feet high, with dense upright leafless and articulated stems. It grows on stony, barren soil. The fruit is red and fleshy and is eaten by children. The stems are used for yellowing and powdered as chewing and snuff. The Afridi trunks crush the stems and soak them in cold water. The extract obtained in this way is used as a medicine against fever. This plant is native to all of Turkestan, northern and central Persia, northern and eastern Afghanistan and the northwestern Himalayas. So it grows in a wide semicircle around the landscapes in which we are looking for the home of the Rigveda. "

Soma was offered to the god Indra to strengthen himself in the battle with Vritra . This fact suggests that the effects may not have been hallucinogenic and narcotic, but stimulating and awake, like ephedrine .

A number of Sanskrit plant names indicate Soma. That's the name rue (Ruta graveolens) सोमलता somalatā . The shrub Desmodium gangeticum is called सौमंया saumya (“rich in soma juice”). The psychedelic dimethyltryptamine is found in its roots . The finger millet (Eleusine coracana) , from which millet beer is brewed in Nepal, is also known as soma .

One hypothesis is that it is the climbing plant Sarcostema vimininalis or Asclepia acida , whose stems were pressed between stones by priests. The juice trickled into kettles, where it was mixed with clarified butter ( ghee ) and flour and allowed to ferment. The somatic drink obtained in this way was then offered to the gods and drunk by the brahmins. Soma is mentioned above all in the oldest text layers. The reason is possibly that the plant was no longer available after the migration to the east ( Ganges plain ).

Preparation of the somatrink

While the preparation of the somato drink was not strictly regulated at the time of the Rigveda, the ceremony was later precisely prescribed. The following devices and vessels were used for pressing: the pressed leather, the two pressing boards, the Dronakalasa bucket, the cheesecloth with fringes, the pressing stones, the two buckets, a bowl, the scoop and the mug. Soma was prepared in a pre-compression and a main compression. It is described in the agnistoma as follows:

“After the sound holes for resonance for the pressing stones have been dug the day before and are firmly covered with the two pressing boards, on the morning of the actual day of the sacrifice a red cowhide is spread over the boards, and the pressing stones are placed on top and those from the wagon on top of them dumped soma plants. During the springtime the soma devices are put on and the adhvaryu (priest) fetches the water required for the soma from the nearest flowing body of water.Then soma stems for a bottle (graha) are placed on the widest stone, with water from the hotr's (high priest's) cup ) and hit the Adhvaryu alone with the stone in three rounds with 8, 11 and 12 blows. Before each round, the stalks are moistened and after each round the squeezed stems are moistened and supplemented from the hotr's cup. The squeezed juice is scooped with the cupped hand in a cup without filtering. This is the first bottle. "

The main pressing was more extensive and the water-diluted juice was poured through a strainer . The soma sacrifice was divided into three pressings (savana) . While the midday pressing is like the main pressing in the morning, the evening pressing takes place without fresh soma. It was carried out from the stalks put back in the morning using as little water as possible. The juice was then mixed with whisked sour milk to make it sweeter and richer.

Persian Hauma

The consumption of the Persian Hauma (haoma) on the presumed basis of the fly agaric is ascribed to the priests of the Mithras cult, the magicians , as well as the Persian nobility. The distribution area of ​​the toadstools was classified on the satrap list of Darius I with Haumaschwelger-Saken ( Scythians ). After the conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great , wine is said to have become the predominant intoxicant.


The British writer Aldous Huxley - inspired by reading the passages about Soma in the English edition of the book Phantastica by Louis Lewin - also called Soma in his dystopian novel Brave New World 1932, the fictional drug of happiness that sedates the masses there . As he himself later noted in his essay Reunion with the Brave New World , the effect described there differs from that of the drink from the Rig Veda. The effects of Huxley's Soma can best be compared to that of modern anti-anxiety and sedative drugs such as diazepam .

In his novel God's Little Warrior , Kiran Nagarkar describes how the main character - more precisely: the antihero - is "cleansed" inwardly through the somatic potion in search of the "right" religious path. The potion is used to extinguish his previous self - to make a " tabula rasa " for the new Hindu identity that he is to carry from now on.

See also

  • Entheogens (drugs used ritually, spiritually, or religiously)


  • Gerhard J. Bellinger: Soma. In: The same: Knaurs Lexikon der Mythologie. Knaur, Munich 1999.
  • Gulick Charles Burton, Philo Loeb, Classical Library: Athenaeus. The Deipnosophists. Harvard University Press, Cambridge 1993 (English).
  • Jan Gonda: Soma. In: Same: Religions of Mankind. Volume 11: Veda and Older Hinduism. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1960.
  • Shakti M. Gupta: Plant Myths and Traditions in India. 2nd revised edition. New Delhi 1991 (English).
  • John Morreall, Tamara Sonn: Soma - Hallucinogen or Entheogen? In: The Same: The Religion Toolkit. A Complete Guide to Religious Studies. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford 2011, ISBN 978-1-4051-8247-8 , pp. ?? (English; side view in the Google book search, without page numbers).
  • Christian Rätsch : Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. 7th edition. AT, Aarau 2004, ISBN 3-85502-570-3 .
  • Hanns-Peter Schmidt: Rgveda 1.28 and the Alleged Domestic Soma-Pressing. In: Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies. Volume 16, No. 1, 2009, pp. 3–13 (English; PDF file; 281 kB; 13 pages on
  • David L. Spess: Soma. The Divine Hallucinogen. Park Street Press, Rochester 2000, ISBN 0-89281-731-3 (English; excerpt from Google book search).
  • Rachel Storm: Soma. In: Same: Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology. Reichelsheim 2000.
  • Rainer Stuhrmann: Capturing Light in the Rgveda. Soma Seen Botanically, Pharmacologically, and in the Eyes of the Kavis. In: Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies. Volume 13, No. 1, 2006, pp. 1–93 (English; PDF file; 832 kB; 93 pages on
  • Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies. Volume 9, No. 1, 2003 (English; article by several scientists on a conference at the University of Leiden 1999: Download overview on → search for “Vol. 9” for additional graphics):
  1. Jan EM Houben: The Soma-Haoma problem: Introductory overview and observations on the discussion. ( ASCII text version ).
  2. Jan EM Houben: Report of the Workshop. ( ASCII text version ).
  3. CC Bakels: Report concerning the contents of a ceramic vessel found in the "white room" of the Gonur Temenos, Merv Oasis, Turkmenistan. ( ASCII text version ).
  4. Victor I. Sarianidi: Margiana and Soma-Haoma. ( ASCII text version ).
  5. George Thompson: Soma and Ecstasy in the Rgveda. ( ASCII text version ).
  6. Contributors to this issue, Part I. ( ASCII text version ).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Gerhard J. Bellinger: Soma. In: The same: Knaurs Lexikon der Mythologie. Knaur, Munich 1999.
  2. a b Rachel Storm: Soma. In: Same: Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology. Reichelsheim 2000.
  3. Compare also: Geo Widengren : Iranian Spiritual World from the Beginnings to Islam. Baden-Baden 1961, (licensed edition for Bertelsmann Lesering) p. 263 ff. (On Yima = Jamschid), in particular p. 267 f. ( Yima's father presses the Haoma ).
  4. a b c d Jan Gonda: Soma. In: Same: Religions of Mankind. Volume 11: Veda and Older Hinduism. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1960.
  5. Rachel Storm: Gandharvas. In: Same: Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology. Reichelsheim 2000.
  6. ^ A b Karl-Friedrich Geldner: Rig-Veda. The Sacred Knowledge of India. Complete translation 1923, re-edited by Peter Michel. Marix, Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-86539-165-0 , p. 2.