Soma, haoma, and ayahuasca (MT17)

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Dr Matthew Clark
Date: November 22, 2017
Time: 3.00-4.00

The ritual drink called soma/haoma, which can be traced to the late Bronze Age (c. 1600 BCE), is central to the religious practices of brahmans who perform Vedic ritual and also to Zoroastrianism. The three main theories currently endorsed by scholars are that soma/haoma was either fly-agaric mushrooms, ephedra or Syrian rue. The evidence seems to indicate that soma/haoma was a psychedelic/entheogenic drug of some kind (though not all scholars agree with this). I propose in my recent book (The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca, Muswell Hill Press, 2017) that soma/haoma was never a single plant but was instead a combination of plants that worked similarly to ayahuasca. I also propose that this kind of plant combination was most probably the basis of the ritual drink known as kykeon, which was used in Greek mystery rites.

Since 2004, Dr. Matthew Clark has been a Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), where he taught courses on Hinduism between 1999 and 2003. He has spent many years in India, which he first visited in 1977, and has travelled extensively throughout the subcontinent. He first engaged with yoga practices in the mid-1970s and since 1990 has been a regular practitioner of Ashtanga Yoga. Dr. Clark is a freelance researcher and lectures widely on religion and philosophy for yoga students and academics. Dr. Clark’s publications include articles, a study of a sect of South Asian renunciates (sādhus) entitled The Daśanāmī-Saṃnyāsīs: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order (Leiden/Boston: E. J. Brill, 2006), and a short book on yoga, The Origins and Practices of Yoga: A Weeny Introduction (Lulu, 2007). More recently he has been researching the ancient Asian ritual drink known as soma/haoma. He proposes that this drink was most probably an analogue of ayahuasca. His book on the topic, The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca (Muswell Hill Press) was published in June 2017.