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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.