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


Soma has often been misinterpreted as intoxicant. The one feature about Soma as drink clearly experssed in Rigveda, is its euphoric quality. Being euphoriant it was mistaken as intoxicant, in fact alcoholic. But Rigveda is equally clear that Soma is a plant. The interpreter then was faced with the paradox that a plant offered a juice which, consumed fresh, had intoxicating properties. Here the mistake obviously was to misinterpret its exhilarating effect as intoxication and the juice as alcoholic. Thus Max Milner (1891) clearly speaks of "the intoxicating beverage, the Soma" p.105. Once an authority of such eminence as Max Milner could look upon Soma as intoxicating, a writer like Dhabar (1908) would boldly indentify it as wine. In this connection he writes that "the liquid drink of the grapes was introduced among
mortals which delivers them from grief and gives sleep, an oblivion of daily evils; nor is there any other medicine for troubles" p.37. We have here an insight into why Soma has been consistently misunderstood as wine. The life of the nomad Aryan was full of woes and worries; alcohol, then, would make him forget them and gradually induce him to sleep. This implies that Soma was somnolent, in fact alcoholic. But all the supporters of the theory that Soma was alcoholic, also realized that, according to Rigveda, it must be the produce of some plant. Thus arose as opinion that the plant juice itself contained alcohol; and also another that the plant was fermented with barley and finally gave a beer- like drink. In the latter case the plant acted much like hops in the manufacture of modern beer. Moreover, there have also been some who conceived Soma as rice-beer. Now in Rigveda there is no word for rice which is in fact occurs first in Atharvaveda. I find these theories are self contradictory and need not be taken seriously. Those interested may find them discussed in Wasson's (1968) book on Soma.
Whitney, a renowned scholar of Sanskrit, has best pictured the effect of Soma drink in the following terms:
"The simple minded Aryan people whose religion was a worship of the wonderful powers and phenomenon of nature had no sooner perceived that this liquid had power to elevate the spirits and produce a temperory frenzy, under the innuence of which the individual was prompted to, and capable of, deeds beyond his natural powers then they hound in it something divine: it was to their apprehension a god, endowing those into whom it entered with god like powers; the plant which afforded it became to them the kind of plants; the process of preparing it was a holy sacrifice, the instruments, used therefore were sacred. The high antiquity of this cultus is attested by the reference to it found occurring in the Persian Avesta, it seems however, to have received a new impulse on Indian territory" - W.D. Whitney, quoted by J. Dowson (1968; 302). Thus Whitney positively depicts Soma as euphoriant first and as energizer next. This explains Soma as a domestic drink, consumed thrice a day. Those who take alcohol usually do so at the end of the day to remove fatigue and enjoy an euphoriant effect. No one starts the day's work with an alcoholic drink much less take it thrice a day. On the other hand tea or coffee is taken with breakfast, sometimes even earlier; then in the evening to overcome the feeling of fatigue and to produce an exhilarating effect. Soma, with its ephedrine, compares with tea containing caffeine. The Iranian Aryan naturally took Haoma twice a day, morning to assure a greater output of energy and evenings to overcome exhaustion and enjoy euphoria. The Vedic Aryan consumed it thrice; early morning, at noon and at sunset. There is a scientific basis for ephedra extract being taken thrice daily as already explained.
The latest term for the class of plants recognized as energizers-cum-euphoriants would be what Dr. Stephen Fulder (1981) has coined namely, Somatensic. He writes that, "like Ginseng the drug Eleutherococcus senticosus can make debilitated, depressed and chronically ill people feel on top of the world." He has coined the term "Somatensic, from Soma, the Greek word for body, and Tendere, to stretch, expand." Then if others look upon Soma juice as intoxicant Fulder would use the term Somatensic. We can now say that Soma would be a regular Somatensic drug.

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

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