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Ploughing the Clouds: The Search for Irish Soma by Peter Lamborn Wilson

1999; 150 pp. $14.95. City Lights.

Hymns of praise for Soma are central to the Rg Veda, the oldest literature of the Indo-Europeans. Students generally agree that Soma is a plant (if we include mushrooms), a consciousness-changingexperience, and also the ritual of ingesting the substance that releases that experience. Parallels to the Soma ritual are found in the Haoma rite of the ancient Iranians and among the Greeks. The identity of the Vedic Soma plant has always beena matter of scholarly dispute, but Gordon Wasson presented a strong case that

Soma was a psychotropic mushroom, Amanita muscaria .

Younger scholars have proposed other identities for Soma, including Peganum harmala , Psilocybe cubensis , and ergotized grain, or some combination of them. After Wasson, only strongly "entheogenic" plants have been considered viable candidates. Attempts to pin down the identity are made more difficult by the use of "Soma substitutes," a documented practice of both the Indians and the Iranians. There is additional evidence that Soma was a mixture of several plants. And what if a migrating people found themselves in a new locale lacking their sacred plant, but with people using a different plant?

Peter Lamborn Wilson jumps into this swirl to look for Soma in the Celtic branch of the Indo-Europeans, where even Wasson claimed it could not be found. Wilson's primary focus is on Amanita muscaria , but he acknowledges that the essence of Soma is a function?a particular ritualistic shape and dynamism, a particular mythic position?rather than a particular plant.

The trail of Soma evidence among the Celts is thin, and Wilson's methodology is really more that of Robert Graves than of Wasson. Material evidence lacking, he teases the Soma signature out of Irish folktales with acumen and flourish, connecting these tales not only to other cultures of Old Europe and India, but also to our own political and social situation. Whether or not the final signature says " Amanita muscaria ," it clearly enough says "Soma," in its most general and functional aspects.

 

ISBN: 0872863263

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