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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

A History of Religions Ideas. Vol. 1,

From Stone Age to the Eleusian Mysteries.

Eliade, Mircea. (1978).
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

ISBN: 0-226-20400-6

Description: Hardcover, xvii + 489 pages. Volume one of a two-volume set. Originally published in 1976 as Histoire des croyances et des idees religieuses, Vol. I: De l'age de a pierre aux mysteres d'Eleusis, Paris: Payot, translated by Willard R. Trask.

Contents: Preface, 15 chapters, list of abbreviations, present position of studies, index.

Excerpt(s): With the 120 hym ns devoted to him, Soma appears as third in the Vedic pantheon. The entire ninth book of the Rg Veda is dedicated to Soma pavamana-soma "in the process of clarification." Even more than in the case of Agni, it is not easy to separate the ritual reality-the plant and the drink-from the god who bears the same name. (page 210)

All the virtues of soma are bound up with the ecstatic experience brought on by its ingestion. "We have drunk soma," says a famous hymn, and "we have become immortal; arrived at light, we have found Gods. What can the impiety or the malice of mortals do to us now, O immortal?" Soma is implored to lengthen "our time to live"; for it is "the guardian of our body," and "weakness, sicknesses, have taken flight" ... Soma stimulates thought, revives the warrior's courage, increases sexual vigor, cures diseases. Drunk in common by priests and gods, it brings Earth close to Sky, reinforces and lengthens life, insures fecundity. And in fact the ecstatic experience reveals at once the fullness of life, the sense of limitless freedom, the possession of almost unsuspected physical and spiritual powers. From this comes the feeling of community with the gods, even of belonging to the divine world, the certainty of "nondeath", that is, in the first place, of a plentitude of life that is indefinitely prolonged. (pages 211-212)

We will not stop to consider the surrogates and substitutes for the original plant in the cult. It is the role that these somic experiences play in Indian thought that is important. Very probably such experiences were confined to priests and a certain number of sacrificers. But they had considerable repercussions by virtue of the interpretations of the hymns called forth. The revelation of a full and beatific existence, in communication with the gods, continued to haunt Indian spirituality long after the disappearance of the original drink. Hence an attempt was made to attain such an existence by the help of other means; asceticism or orgiastic excesses, meditation, the techniques of Yoga, mystical devotion. (page 212)

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