Skip directly to content

Lectures by Dr Matthew Clark

Soma, haoma, and ayahuasca

22 Nov 2017

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. 


Cannabis use by yogis in India

10 Mar 2020

In this talk we will survey what is known about the use of cannabis in India from the earliest records until modern times. In my book, The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca (London/New York: Muswell Hill Press, 2017), one of the chapters was devoted to this topic. Although there are a few occasional references in the Vedas (the oldest religious texts of South Asia) to what may be cannabis, the plant does not appear in medical texts until around 1,000 years ago. The use of cannabis for recreational purposes was mainly introduced into India by radical Sufis (known variously as Qalandar, Heydari or Malang) in the 13th century. Some South Asian yogis use cannabis heavily as a form of tapas. The use of cannabis was made illegal in India in 1986, since when recreational use has declined. However, in some areas cannabis is still legal, and bhāṅg (a form of the plant prepared for oral consumption) is still widely available in north India. In this talk we will also look briefly at different kinds of cannabis preparations in South Asia.Dr Matthew Clark (PhD) is a Research Associate in the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics at SOAS (University of London). He specialises in yoga, sādhus, and the religious cultures of India. He is involved in the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies and is one of the editors of the Journal of Yoga Studies. His research in the last few years has focussed on soma/haoma, the ancient Asian ritual drink. His theory, presented in his recent book (The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca. London/New York: Muswell Hills Press, 2017) and several articles, is that it was originally made from plants that acted as analogues of ayahuasca, a powerful psychedelic concoction.