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What Entheogen Was Soma?

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>From Publishers Weekly


Ancient India's collection of sacred hymns, the Rig Veda (circa 1500

B.C.), describes the ritual use of a plant called soma; whoever drinks

it "becomes a kind of god, exalted to a visionary state." Combing

Celtic folktales, myths and epics, and drawing parallels between Irish

gods, heroes, seers, dragon-slayers and shape-shifters, and those of

the Rig Veda, Wilson (Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam)

attempts to show that ancient Ireland, like Vedic India, had a

psychedelic soma cult. Irish soma, Wilson believes, could have been a

Psilocybe mushroom or Amanita muscaria, the mushroom identified as

India's soma in Gordon Wasson's controversial Soma: Divine Mushroom of

Immortality (1968). Wilson uses his considerable research to explain

and interpret the Indian soma ritual, and to imagine the Irish one,

maintaining, for example, that Beltane (May Day) and the summer

solstice were important in the Celtic soma ritual. All this is not so

far-fetched as it might sound?many prehistorians believe that an

Indo-European people branched out from central or northeast Eurasia to

become Indians, Greeks, Iranians, Celts, Norse, Russians. Yet the

parallels that Wilson delineates between Irish lore and the Vedic

hymns often seem strained and tenuous. His convoluted analyses,

freighted with academic prose, will appeal chiefly to serious students

of comparative religion, folklore and myth, ancient history or drug

use. For all his anthropological armature, Wilson makes his agenda

clear: soma in Ireland, India and elsewhere "was repressed [by]

religion and society based on rigid hierarchy... nothing is more

democratic than" soma, "the entheogen, the god within"?and Wilson

therefore hopes for a "revival of ceremonial entheogenism [psychedelic

plant use] in the modern world." 20 pages of illustrations not seen by PW.

- in the modern world." 20 pages of illustrations not seen by PW.

Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Book Description


In Ploughing the Clouds, Peter Lamborn Wilson suggests that the

ancient Celts of Ireland may have possessed a "Soma" ceremony similar

to one described in the Rig Veda, one of the oldest scriptures in the

world. Written in India in 1500 BC, the Rig Veda praises a holy plant

called Soma or "magic mushroom" that grants the drinker enlightenment

and ecstasy. By comparing Celtic myth and folklore with the Rig Veda,

he uncovers an Irish branch of the great Indo-European tradition of

psychedelic (or "entheogenic") shamanism, and even reconstructs some

of its secret rituals. He uses this comparative material to illuminate

the deep meaning of the Soma-function in all cultures: the entheogenic

origin of "poetic frenzy," the link between intoxication and inspiration.


Peter Lamborn Wilson is a scholar, critic, poet, and visionary best

known for Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam (City Lights)

and his radio commentaries on WBAI New York.

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