Soma, haoma, and ayahuasca
The identity of the plant known as soma in ancient India, and as haoma in the Zoroastrian tradition, has for around 250 years exercised the wits and imagination of scores of scholars. This plant is praised in the highest terms—as a kind of deity—in both Zoroastrian and Vedic texts that date from around 1,700–1,500 BCE; it is said to provide health, power, wisdom and even immortality. It has been variously identified by researchers as a non-psychoactive plant, as a medicine, as merely water, as alcoholic, as a ‘narcotic’, as a stimulant, and as a psychedelic. Currently, the three most supported theories are that soma/haoma was either fly-agaric mushrooms, ephedra, or Syrian rue. I suggest, alternatively, that the ritual drink was based on analogues of ayahuasca, using a variety of plants, some of which I have identified.
Since 2004, Dr Matthew Clark has been affiliated as a Research Associate to the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), where, between 1999 and 2003, he taught Hinduism. He has travelled very extensively in India and has published books and articles on soma, sadhus and yoga. He is a freelance scholar, who works occasionally as a proof-reader, editor and tutor for yoga teacher-training courses. He also writes songs and plays guitar; he has produced several albums of music as Mahabongo.