The Importance of SOMA

"…I will pick up the earth, and put it here or put it there. Have I been drinking Soma?" What is this Soma, which leads people to believe that they can move the earth? Since the earliest of times there has been a reference to Soma in the literary texts of Hinduism. A.L. Basham, in his book, The Origins and Development of Classical Hinduism, categorizes Soma as "…the vague personification of a plant from which a potent beverage is made." From this definition, we can only interpret little about Soma; it could be a plant, a deity or some other celestial being "…to whom all the hymns of the ninth book of the Rg-Veda are addressed…"
From the text in Basham it is hard to infer to which one of the forms Soma plays it's role in early Hinduism. There is only limited explanation in the book, although it is a necessity in almost all early rituals. There is only vague mention of that which "…inspired hymns vibrant with ecstasy, composed over centuries by priests…" During the course of this paper we will analyze that which A.L. Basham has written, the role it plays in Hinduism and what importance other authors place on Soma. The information presented will show that the use of Soma was intricate and necessary in the creation of the Holy Scriptures and in the rituals.
From the book by A.L. Basham, we learn that Soma was rumored to contain "…a powerful hallucinogen…" , even though today Soma is proven to be quite innocuous. The process of making the drink in ancient times was to crush the plant with two stones, mixing the juice with milk and then filtering that using a sheepskin. Basham mentions that the possibility for Soma being an alcohol does not exist. R. Gordon Wasson author of , Soma, Divine Mushroom of Immortality, identifies Soma as being "…Amanita muscaria…" of the mushroom kingdom. The author also agrees with Basham that Soma could not be liquor or beer.
In his brief analysis of Soma, Basham also mentions that Soma was once "…associated with the moon, but in the Rg-Veda he is simply the king of plants, bestower of immortality through the miraculous beverage he provides." There is no mention of the use of Soma in rituals except during sacrifices. The author does not provide any relevance for any of his statements made about Soma, although there are hymns dedicated and specific sacrifices performed in the name of Soma. Other authors have alternate ideas on what A.L. Basham provides and offer theories as to the use of Soma in early Hindu sacrifices and its importance.
Although Basham gives no major significance to Soma in the Vedic religion, other authors have recognized it as a focal point. R. Gordon Wasson asserts that Soma underlies the whole of Indian religion. Everything of a mystical nature within that religion is pertinent to the identity of the plant. In our study of Hinduism, we have to understand why Wasson along with other authors place such importance to Soma. Wasson cites early European references to Soma, who also found that , "… they never drink wine (Soma Juice) except at sacrifices." They (the Aryans) found Soma to be exhilarating yet slightly intoxicating and gave the user moral elevation. We can see from this that the users only used Soma as a means to communicate with god and at the culmination of sacrifices one felt, through the effects of Soma, that they had an experience with god. This explains the use of Soma strictly in rituals and not daily consumption.
Thus far, we have understood the use of Soma as a hallucinogen, either knowingly or unknowingly, but its presence as a god is not clear. In his book, Hindu Mythology, W.J. Wilkins identifies Soma as the god who represents and animates the juice of the Soma plant. We can get a sense of the devotion that the people had for Soma through this excerpt;
"This Soma is a god; he cures
The sharpest ills that man endures.
He heals the sick, the sad he cheers,
he nerves the weak, dispels their fears;"

The people thought of Soma as a god, whom provided for his people a potion that would ease their sufferings. Vedic texts suggest that