*Soma

Soma, the god-narcotic of ancient India, attained an exalted place in magic religious ceremonies of the Aryans, who 3,500 years ago swept down from the north into the Indus Valley, bringing with them the cult of Soma. These early invaders of India worshiped the holy inebriant and drank an extract of it in their most sacred rites. Whereas most hallucinogenic plants were considered merely as sacred mediators, Soma became a god in its own right. An ancient Indian tradition recording in the Rig-Veda asserts that "Parjanya, the god of thunder, was the father of Soma" (Indra).

"Enter into the Indra, receptacle of Soma, like rivers into the ocean, thou who pleasest Mitra, Varuna, Vaya, mainstay of heaven!... Father of the gods, progenitor of the moving force, mainstay of the sky, foundation of the earth."

Of the more than 1000 holy hymns in the Rig-Veda, 120 are devoted exclusively to Soma, and references to this vegetal sacrament run through many of the other hymns. The cult was suppressed, and the original holy plant was forgotten; other plant surrogates (with little or no psycho activity) were substituted, yet the identity of Soma remained one of the enigmas of ethnobotany for two thousand years, Only in 1968 did the interdisciplinary research of Gordon Wasson provide persuasive evidence that the sacred narcotic was a mushroom, Amanita muscaria, the Fly Agaric. Amanita muscaria may be the oldest of the hallucinogens and perhaps was the most widely used.

The curious hallucinogens usa of Amanita muscaria has been documented since 1730. It was then that a Swedish military officer, a prisoner of war in Siberia for twelve years, reported that primitive tribesmen there employed the Fly Agaric as a shamanistic inebriant. The custom persisted among scattered groups of Finno-Ugrian peoples of Siberia. Traditions suggest that other groups in this vast northern region also used the Fly Agaric mushroom.

A Koryak legend tells us that the culture here, Big Raven, caught a whale but was unable to put such a heavy animal back into the sea. The god Vahiyinin (Existence) told him to eat wapaq spirits to get the strength that he needed. Vahiyinin spat upon the earth, and little white plants (the wapag spirits) appeared; they had red hats and Vahiyinin's spittle congealed as white flecks. When he had eaten wapaq, Big Raven became exceedingly strong, and he pleaded: "O wapaq, grow forever on earth". Whereupon he commanded his people to learn what wapaq could teach them. Wapaq is the Fly Agaric, a gift directly from Vahiyinin.

The Rig-Veda definitely refers to urine drinking in the Soma ritual: "The swollen men piss the flowing Soma. The lords, with full bladders, piss Soma quick the movement." The priests impersonating Indra and Vaya, having drunk Soma in milk, urinate Soma. IN Vedic poems, urine is not offensive but is an ennobling metaphor to describe rain: the blessings of rain and likened to showers of urine, and the clouds fertilize the earth with their urine.

A traveler among the Koryak in the early twentieth century offered one of the few descriptions of intoxication in aboriginal use of the mushroom. He wrote that the "Fly Agaric produces intoxication, hallucinations, and delirium. Light forms of intoxication are accompanied by a certain degree of animation and some spontaneity of movements. Many shamans, previous to their seances, eat Fly Agaric to get into ecstatic states... Under strong intoxication, the senses become deranged, surrounding objects appear either very large or very small, hallucinations set in, spontaneous movements and convulsions. So far I could observe, attacks of great animation alternate with moments of deep depression. The person intoxicated by Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) sits quietly rocking from side to side, even taking part in conversations with his family. Suddenly his eyes dilate, he begins to gesticulate convulsively, converses with persons whom he imagines he sees, sings and dances, Then interval of rest sets in again".

The Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) was apparently employed hallucinogenically in Mesoamenica. It naturally occurs in highland areas in southern Mexico and Guatemala, for example, recognize Amanita muscaria as having special properties, for they call it Kakulja-ikox (lightning mushroom), relating it to one of the gods, Rajaw Kakulja or Lord of Lightning. It is this god who directs the operating of chacs, dwarf rain-bringers now usually known by their Christian designation, angelitos. The Quiche name of the Amanita muscaria. Kaqulja, refers to its legendary origin, whereas the term itzelo-cox refers to its sacred power as "evil or diabolical mushroom". Thunder and lightning have widely and anciently been associated with the mushrooms, in both hemispheres, especially with Fly Agraics (Amanita muscaria). "In any event, the Quiche-Maya... are evidently well aware the Amanita muscaria is no ordinary mushroom but relates to the supernatural."

The first settlers of the Americas came from Asia, slowly crossing the region of the Bering Strait. Anthropologists have found many Asia-related or remnant culture traits that persist in the Americas. Recent discoveries have uncovered vestiges of the magico-religious importance of the Fly Agaric that indeed survived in North American cultures. Indications of undoubted hallucinogenic use of the Fly Agaric have been discovered among the Dogrib Athabascaan peoples, who live on the Machnzie Mountain range in northwesten Canada. Here Fly Agarics (Amanita muscaria) is employed as a sacrament in shamanism. A young neophyte reported that whatever the shaman had done to him, "he snatched me. I had no volition, I had no power of my own. I didn't eat, didn't sleep, I didn't think, I wasnt in my body any longer". After a later seance, he wrote: "Cleansed and ripe for vision, I rise, a bursting ball of seeds in space... I have sung the note that shatters chaos, and have been bloody... I have been with the dead and attempted the labyrinth." His first mushroom experience represented dismemberment; his second, meeting with the spirit.

More recently, the religious use of Fly Agarics (Amanita muscaria) as a sacred hallucinogen has been discovered in an ancient annual ceremony practiced by the Ojibwa Indians or Ahnishinaubeg, who live on Lake Superior in Michigan. The mushroom is know in the Ojibwa language as Oshtimisk Wajashkwedo ("Red-top mushroom").