The Haoma\Connection

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Image retrieved from on September 27th, 2013.

Both the Tree of Life and the Tree of knowledge have long been associated with the Iranian haoma and its Vedic counterpart the soma, a long forgotten hallucinogenic plant that was used in ancient rituals. As scholar E.K. Bunsen pointed out as long ago as 1867:

The records about the ”Tree of Life” are the sublimest proofs of the unity and continuity of tradition, and of its Eastern tradition. The earliest records of the most ancient Oriental tradition refer to a “Tree of Life”, which was guarded by spirits. the juice of the sacred tree, like the tree itself, was called Soma in Sanskrit, and Haoma in Zend; it was revered as the life preserving essence (Bunsen 1867).

A view that was shared by T.W. Doane author of the ground-breaking study in comparative theology BIBLE MYTHS AND THEIR PARALLELS IN OTHER RELIGIONS, which noted other aspects of the Persian myths concerning haoma and their similarities with those of the Garden of Eden;

The Persian supposed that a region of bliss and delight called Heden, more beautiful than all the rest of the world... was the original abode of first men, before they were tempted by the evil spirit in the form of a serpent, to partake of the forbidden tree Hom (Doane 1882)

A number of different candidates have been suggested as the plant identity of Haoma/soma,, the most popular being the Amanita Muscaria mushroom as originally proposed in a hypothesis from the banker and mycologist R. Gordon Wasson who also held that this same mushroom was the Biblical Tree of Knowledge. Interestingly, Wasson's theory has come to be accepted by the most orthodox of scholarly sources. “Both secular and cultic use of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom in Siberia probably go back more that 6,000 years, and cultic use has spread beyond the cool temperate climates here the musrhoom grows” (ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANICA)

One of the pharmacological mysteries is the nature of Zoroastrian haoma and the early Hindu soma, both sacred drinks made from plants. Their source may have been the Amanita Muscaria mushroom, the mind-affecting chemicals of which pass into the urine with their properties very little diminished; there are scriptural references to sacred urine drunk as the source of divine insights. Allusions to twigs and branches of haoma, however, suggest other plants, perhaps hemp. The mushroom, which does not grow in hot countries, may have been introduced to India, by Aryan invaders from the north; subsequently, other plants may have been substituted until their identity was confused and lost. (ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANCA)

The knowledgeable editor-in-chief of High Times, Steve Hager, religious scholar A.L. Basham and Orientalist Alain Danielou are among the people that believe hemp is the most likely candidate for the ancient soma. In favor of the hemp\soma theory are ancient writings which indicate that the stalks of the haoma were woven together and worn around the neck as an amulet for protection, an act of weaving that would be hard to accomplish with a mushroom, but not with the fibrous cannabis-sativa. The recent comments of the respected French scholar Alain Danielou, the first Westerner to be fully initiated into the cult of Shiva, has certainly added some strength to the claim that soma was made from cannabis:

”This ancient sacred drink was likely to resemble a drink what today is called bhang, made from the crushed leaves of Indian Hemp. Every Shivaite has to consume bhang at least once a year. The drink, which intensifies perceptivity, induces visions and above all leads to extreme mental concentration. It is widely used by Yogis. Details concerning its preparation are to be found as early as the Vedic period. The description of the way soma was prepared and its immediate use without fermentation, can only apply to bhang and is identical to the method employed today.” (Danielou 1992)

The confusing about the plant identity of haoma may in part be answered by the alternative theory that the terms haoma and soma were used as a cover term to describe a variety of drug plants. These plants became haoma/soma after being consecrated by a priest, in much the same way that the modern Roman Catholic priest magically turns common bread and wine into the body and blood of the lord through prayer and ritual. When the plants were used in ceremonies in which the sacrament was consecrated and consumed they may have been referred to under the generic name Soma. Such would allow for a variety of plants sources for the haoma, but likely with a focus on the two main candidates, cannabis and the shamanic mushroom.

It has long been acknowledged that the Zoroastrian religion influenced the writers of the Bible in many very important ways. Later theological developments such as beliefs in Heaven and Hell, an afterlife, a coming savior, and even of the final apocalypse, have their origin in the Iranian faith. Although the similarities between the Persian and Hebrew creation mythologies, (especially the haoma with the tree of life), are indeed very apparent, it is our view that the Hebrews did not adopt this cosmology from their Persian neighbors. Instead these profound similarities indicate a common source for both Persian and Hebrew creation mythologies, one which was adopted in early stages of both cultures, and came from a pre-existing Mesopotamian and Semitic cosmological influence. The adoption of key aspects of Zoroastrian cosmology by the Hebrews does not take place until much later Biblical times, at the end of the Age of Kings.

pp. 7-9 of Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible by Chris Bennette and Neil McQueen (2001)

shiva, haoma, soma, amanita muscaria, cannabis,