Forbidden Fruit Publishing

Cannabis and the Soma Solution

By Chris Bennett

published by Trineday

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A treasure trove of up-to-date ancient information on cannabis. High recommended to round out your library on religious uses of psychoactive drugs.

Julie Holland, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine
Editor, The Pot Book. A Complete Guide To Cannabis.
Editor, Ecstasy: The Complete Guide.

I have read Mr. Bennett’s several books on this subject and am in general agreement with what he states, especially about the extent to which the Vedic hallucinogen Soma was probably made from cannabis. Indeed, his research has changed my own thinking about this ancient conundrum (heretofore, the majority of scholars have suggested that Soma was prepared from psychotropic mushrooms).
As Chris Bennett amply demonstrates in this seminal book, the ritual use of cannabis has a very long history. It extends from Vedic India in the second millennium, B.C.E., where the hallucinogen in question was known as Soma, classical Greece, ancient Israel where it appears as keneh bosem, and the steppes of Central Asia, where, according to Herodotus in Book IV of his History, the ancient Scythians ritually inhaled the fumes given off by burning cannabis leaves. Indeed, the plant has consistently occupied a central position in shamanic cults almost everywhere. In more recent times, and especially in the twentieth century, users of cannabis for spiritual purposes have unfortunately been persecuted, in the United States and elsewhere, by authorities enforcing laws against its possession. A good example can be seen in the ongoing attempts to suppress its use in the Rastafarian religion. In short, I heartily recommend Bennett’s book to anyone seeking a better understanding of this well-nigh universal, albeit all too often misunderstood hallucinogen and its crucial role in the history of human spirituality.

C. Scott Littleton, Ph.D.
Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus
Occidental College

Chris Bennett assembles religious, historical, medical and poetic sources with immaculate ease, in order to construct what is sure to be an enduring examination of the global history of cannabis use by widely diverse human populations.

Dr. David C.A. Hillman
Dr. David C.A. Hillman earned a Ph.D. in Classics and M.S. in Bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin, where he studied the medicine and pharmacology of antiquity. The London Times described his research as "the last wild frontier of classical studies." Dr. Hillman's work, while firmly grounded in primary sources – the original documents of Church authorities and others – is highly controversial. It is research that many modern Church officials do not want known. His dissertation committee refused to pass him unless he removed material about the use of psychedelic drugs in antiquity; he later published the forbidden material in The Chemical Muse. rs.

I’ve enjoyed this book immensely—a masterful investigation of religious intoxication cults from ancient India, Persia, Asia Minor, Scythia, and Europe. Refuting R. Gordon Wasson’s theory that Soma of the Vedas was Amanita muscaria mushrooms, Bennett shows that Soma was probably a mixture of cannabis, ephedra and poppy (confirmed by Sarianidi’s archaeological discoveries in Bactria), and he traces the uses of cannabis as a sacrament through many ancient cultures. This is a must-read for everyone interested in the ancient history of drugs.

Michael R. Aldrich, Ph.D.
Michael R. Aldrich, Ph.D is the author of the first doctoral dissertation on cannabis in the United States, Marijuana Myths and Folklore (1970); editor of the first pot ’zine, The Marijuana Review, 1968-1973; co-founder of Amorphia, The Cannabis Cooperative (1969-1973); organizer of California Marijuana Initiative (1972); curator of Fitz Hugh Ludlow Memorial Library (1974-2002) and the Aldrich Archives (1974-present); program coordinator, Institute for Community Health Outreach (California statewide AIDS outreach worker training program); executive director of CHAMP medical marijuana community center, San Francisco (2001-2002); and co-founder of the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center (SPARC), (2010-present). He and his wife Michelle have worked in the marijuana movement for more than 40 years together.

The identities of Soma, an ancient psychoactive inebriant that inspired the shaman poets who wrote the Indian Vedas (e. 1500-500 BCE), and its counterpart the Persian Haoma which gave equal inspiration to the pre-Zoroastrian authors of the Yasna, has long been a subject of scholarly debate. The connection between the two sacraments and two cultures goes back into the shadowy time of pre-history and the common ancestry of the two cultures in ancient Indo European groups originating along the Russian Steppes.

In this book, Bennett dissects and debunks long held theories about the identity of the Soma/Haoma, such as R. Gordon Wasson’s hypothesis of the Fly Agaric mushroom as the Soma, as well as David Stophlet Flattery and Martin Schwartz’s identification of Haoma as Syrian Rue, and instead traces the roots of the Soma/Haoma cults back to its origins amongst a cannabis burning and drinking Proto-Indo European group known as the Sredeni Stog, (4500-3500 BCE) a nomadic culture that originated in the Ukraine and whose high mobility, through their domestication of the horse, allowed them and their descendants to spread the use, mythology and linguistical root of numerous modern names for cannabis around much of the ancient world. Indeed, the modern term “cannabis” comes from an ancient Proto- Indo-European root word, “kanap”; the “an” from this root is believed to have left traces in many modern terms for cannabis, such as French “chanvre”, German “hanf”, Indian “bhang”, Sanskrit “sana”, Persian “bangha” , Dutch “Canvas”, Greek “Kannabis,” etc.

Cannabis would accompany such Indo European groups for millennia, like the later Scythians, known as the Haoma-Varga (Haoma gatherers), who with their horses and the first wagons spread the use and mythology of cannabis throughout Western Europe, Greece and Rome, Persia and the Middle East, India, and even into China, leaving an imprint of their cultural traditions regarding hemp as they travelled.

Recently discovered archaeological evidence from the Yanghai Tombs in China have revealed an Indo-European culture, the Gushi, populated the region from about 1800-200 BCE, and considerable amounts of cultivated female cannabis have been found accompanying the mummified remains of Gushi Shaman. The homeland of the Gushi culture in mainland China marked a trading post for a vast trade network that spanned much of the ancient world, and it was likely with this group, that the Indo-European sacred plant kanna (hemp) first picked up the Chinese name Hu-Ma, (fire hemp), which would become Haoma in the Bactria Afghanistan region populated by the pre-Zoroastrian Mazdean partakers of the sacred beverage who traded with the Gushi, eventually becoming Soma as this primordial cultic tradition reached into India.

Although largely forgotten in the mists of time, Bennett also clearly identifies a cannabis-Soma cultic influence at the inception of a number of existing religions, such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, making hemp the common perennial source of the world’s most popular and oldest religious traditions.

Page last modified on December 13, 2012, at 05:57 PM