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Books - The History and Natural History of Ephedra as SOMA
Written by S. Mahdihassan   


Ritually the most important role which Soma was made to play was that of consecrating fire. Thus, the Vedic Aryan poured the juice of the plant into the fire-thereby inoculating it, as though with germ that would grow into a power conferring blessing - in a special ceremony, known as the Homa ceremony. This ceremony was a manifestation of the close association between Soma and Agni, so obvious in Rigveda.
I have explained how the Aryan pastoral nomad had to over-exert himself to make himself an indefatigable procurer of food-stuffs and depended upon Soma which he consumed thrice a day. We have discussed this before and looked upon Soma as making the Aryan an efficient "grocer." Likewise fire turned inedible foodstuff into consumable food and by using it properly the Aryan became an efficient "cook". Thus arose the intimate association of Soma with Fire, later deified as Soma-Agni. Now of the two fire was known much earlier. According to Radin (19521:69) even the "Peking man knew how to make fire." And fire being relatively the more difficult to procure attention was directed to having it always available.
Fire at this time was generated by rubbing two pieces of wood against one another. It was time consuming and erratic. It was felt expedient to maintain it ever- burning rather than generate it every time it was needed. Thus arose the problem of having an ever--burning fire. Now to solve it ritually, was to consecrate it and consecration means vivification. Some source or power rich in soul-content can be made to offer a quantum of life- essence to impart eternal life to an acceptor. Thus when an image is consecrated it becomes a living-god. Now oil and butter can be poured into fire to keep it burning. But to make it everburning it had to be consecrated and Soma was used as the donor of life essence. This is clearly indicated in Satapata Brahmana. Eggeling (1886; pt. II. p.342) translates the verse concerned as follows: "Agni is the body (the recepient) and Soma is the life-sap (the soul donor) and hence the body is supplied with the life-sap from end to end." Life-sap would be a synonmy of life-essence or soul. Macdonald (1896;104) has already told us that "the Soma juice is poured into the fire and thus infused immortality upon Agni and by so doing the worsnippers acquired it themsevles." The statement as offered above is condensed, and to expand it would be to deliver its signific.ance. Soma comes as an immortalizer or consecrator which means fire is to be made ever-burning. This solves the problem of cooking and thereby of enjoying food. To one always short of food a happy meal would have the psychological significance of having become immortal. Such would certainly be how poets among nomads, living from hand to mouth, can look at it. It is this idealized conception which states that the worshipper's life is also prolonged while performing the consecration ceremony. This now requires analyzing the consceration ceremony. Soma is a perennial plant and as such potentially a donor of an immortalizing principle. This is not enough. It must have the power to donate what it owns. This donating power is imparted to it by the prayers of the worshipper. Now Soma is to offer its own principle to fire and as heat energy it spreads all over what it has received, thereby the immortalizing principle is reflected back even upon Soma itself/Next the worshipper also becomes the recepient of the immortalizing principle. We see here clearly how consecration of fire is a larger phenomenon than merely vivifying fire. In fact its main aim is to see that the worshipper becomes immortal. It is obvious that here comes specialized reasoning to support such a ritual. The proper explanation is offered by K. R. Canna (1968; 106). The name Haoma had entered Greek as Omanos, being mentioned by Plutarch. He speaks, "of herb Onnonni pounded in a mortar by the Magi The herb Omomi which was offered by the Magi has obviously the same root as Omanos. The peculiarity in this god's character is that the substance presented to god is itself transformed into god and receives in turn divine honours." We must realize that Soma is the immortalizer or more than vivifier and as such more vital than Agni. In fact the ceremony is called Horn, after the plant and not after Agni. Nevertheless Agni comes as the broadcaster of immortality and supercedes Soma in acquiring a better position in the Aryan pantheon. At any rate we have to speak always of Soma-Agni, rather than of the plant, or of Homa alone. Macdonald (1896; 121) writes in this connection that "Madame Zonaide Ragozin considers it the key of the whole Vedic religion (by maintaining that) the whole naturalism of Rigveda, the entire conception of the universe and its working, hinges on two sets of natural phenomena: those of Light and of Moisture, embodied in Agni and Soma." In as much as fire is heat more than light Agni and Soma would be Heat and Moisture. Psychologically considered, man's primary attitude towards nature was guided by the two feelings, hunger and fear of cold. These have given rise to two cosmic elements. Earth (food supplier) and Fire (heat), and since Earth alone could not produce food this was Water-plus-Earth. Thus the emphasis on Moisture by Madam Ragozin is traceable to Water. But clearer and more realistic are the concepts of procurer of food-stuff and of food-preparer, of Soma and of Agni, which make the two members as one; but, as life-form, only. Soma comes into consideration, so that it becomes the agency which consecrates fire. Realistically speaking, fire has life as long as it is burning. Consecration in this case came to bestow ever-lasting life. This feature, depending upon Soma, made it superior to Agni. The relationship between Soma and Agni is better understood by keeping in mind that Agni was replaced later by Vishnu and Soma by Shiva. Briefly, the later gods, Vishnu/Shiva have been as the counterparts, of Agni/Soma. Agni was fire-god and was superseded - by Vishnu, the sun-god. Soma as moon-god and immortalizer was superceded by Shiva, the god of immortality. The popularity of Shiva is traceable to Soma, each being eternally young, and in turn conferring rejuvenation-cum-longevity. These concepts place the gods nearer the human heart than do Moisture and Light which in any case ought to be Moisture (water) and Heat (fire). Once we recognize the popularity of Shiva as compared with that of Vishnu we can also form an idea of how things were in earlier times, when life's struggle was far severer. Hillebrandt, quoted by Keith (1925; 171), observed that, "Soma was the most popular of Vedic gods." He partook in helping the procurement of foodstuff and ended by resurrecting the dead. And for conferring ever-lasting life he came to consecrate fire. By the same act he conferred longevity upon man.
Now, it would be worth while to identify the characteristic of Soma that qualified it to become a consecrating agent. If consecration means being infused with a quantum of life-essence or soul, to become a living-deity, that donor must have enough of it (or possess essence of ever-increasing life) to be able to spare a quantum of it for others. In effect, it should possess the power of Growth-Everlasting which then is the active principle of a perennial plant. Such was the concept of the primitive man. Radin (1957; 205) has cited this kind of belief of a Red Indian who observed that a tree had grown at the head of the grave of his son. According to him "only a tree lives for ever and that is why the spirits transformed his son into a tree." A tree as ever-green destined to live for ever would then itself be a source of enternal life and could donate what it owned to any acceptor. This would clearly be the case with ever-green plants, such as the ephedra plant. As elaborated in the preceeding paragraphs, the final interdependence of Agni-worship and Soma-worship is traceable to fire and Soma. The nomads had to exploit food stuffs, like tubers, roots and grass-seeds which required their being roasted to make nonedible food-stuffs consumable food. Here some light is thrown by Levy (1959; 48). He speaks of the "Mesopotamians preparing dough (of millet grain) placed in hot ashes and covered with them. This method (of baking flour) is still used by the Bedouins. Heated stones were also used for baking." Such would be the early use of fire in preparing food when fire becomes so to say a "cook". But to collect the foodstuffs themselves the pastoral nomads had to over-exert themselves and to make themselves exhaustion-proof they drank Soma. This enabled them to collect food-stuffs so that Soma functioned like a grocer in disguise. Hence if fire was "cook" Soma was "grocer." This explains the association between Agni and Soma. Being indispensable the use of Soma as drink had to be properly learnt whence it was ritualized and ritualization would be the ancient system of propaganda and instruction.
As regards the proto-cosmology of Rigveda, it maintains that fire was ,born out of_water and moreover Soma had to impregnate water for it to deliver fire. Fire was born as the "son-of-water." Moreover Soma also consecreted fire to make it ever-burning. Thus Soma became soul and fire the body, its acceptor. Soma according to Rigveda, is Auspicious Energy. This is a synonymous term for Creative Energy and Soma represents Proto-Akasha or Proto-Brahma. We have then three cosmic powers in Rigveda, Water, Fire and Soma- that last being ProtoAkasha.

Our valuable member S. Mahdihassan has been with us since Sunday, 24 March 2013.

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