Soma: The Divine Hallucinogen

Excerpts & Samples

By David L. Spess

Publisher : Inner Traditions/Bear & Company

ABOUT David L. Spess

David L. Spess
David Spess has a master's degree in microbiology/mycology and studied Sanskrit at the Naropa Institute. David has traveled throughout India and the Middle East researching this book. He was formerly a research mycologist for the FDA and has taught at the University of Colorado. He lives i More...



The definitive work on the ancient Hindu soma rituals mentioned in the Vedas and debated by scholars for decades.

• The first book to identify the mysterious soma plant.

• A breakthrough book that reenvisions the role of psychoactive plants in religion.

Soma has been shrouded in mystery for centuries. It is simultaneously a sacred hallucinogenic plant used in secret rituals, a personified God, and an important cosmological principle. Summarizing all previous research on the subject, David Spess goes far beyond his predecessors and shows that soma provides an important key to the understanding of the earliest systemized methods of medicine, psychology, magic, rejuvenation, longevity, and alchemy. Most significant is that his intensive research provides the most compelling case yet for actual identification of the plants that served as the basis for the divine hallucinogen Nelumbo nucifera, the sacred lotus of India, as well as some members of the Nymphaea genus. 

With the renewed interest in the ritual use of psychoactive substances, shamanism, psychic phenomena, and alternative modalities of healing, Soma provides a much needed bridge between Eastern and Western esoteric traditions. Contained within the enigmatic verses about soma in the Rig Veda is a secret about ourselves and the nature of our relationship to the world and cosmos. Soma makes this knowledge available to us once again.

"In this meticulously researched, always scholarly but eminently readable study of Soma, the "elixir of immortality" and enlightenment of ancient India, David Spess takes us on a fascinating intellectual and spiritual journey way beyond Wasson's narrowly focused case for Amanita muscaria, the inebriating fly agaric mushroom of ecstatic Siberian shamanism. In a book thankfully free of both scientific and New Age jargon Spess presents convincing evidence that Soma's devotees knew of many different kinds and even colors of soma drinks with different associations and purposes, so that soma botany and taxonomy cannot be reduced to a single sacred plant species. A valuable contribution to both historical ethnobotany and comparative religion----and a good read."

Peter T. Furst, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Author of Flesh of the Gods: The Ritual use of Hallucinogens; Hallucinogens & Culture; and People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History & Religion

"Spess makes a daring thesis--that Indo-Aryan ritualists created an entheogenic ceremony that eventually spread throughout all of Eurasia--and he argues cogently that soma and its rituals reached all of the great civilizations, creating alchemy and magic. This book reveals the history of the divine soma, not just in India, but in all subsequent searches for the golden germ and the elixir of immortality. A well-argued and convincing book, worth reading many times over!"
Willard Johnson, Professor of Religious Studies, San Diego State University
Author of Poetry and Speculation of the Rg Veda and Riding the Ox Home

"This fascinating tour de force of impeccable scholarship, written with enviable elan, succeeds brilliantly in disclosing the elusive identity of the soma plants of India and their impact on the cultural history of China, Europe and the Near East. Provocative, intriguing, and sure to generate scholarly debate, this seminal work is absolutely essential for anyone interested in soma and hallucinogenic plants."
Frank H. Lipp, Ph.D., Author of New Plant Sources for Drugs and Food and Herbalism: Living Wisdom

"Soma brilliantly completes the enquiry on the scientific and botanical aspects, as well as the anthropological and cultural development, of this very important subject. A magnificent book destined to become a classic."
Oscar Ichazo, author of Psychocalisthenics and Between Metaphysica and Protoanalysis

"By far the most thorough survey of both the botanical and the psycho-spiritual aspects of the soma plant that I've ever seen. All I can do is congratulate the author."
Wendy Doniger, coauthor of Soma: The Divine Mushroom of Immortality

"A noteworthy addition to the research on hallucinogens."
Joan Halifax, author of The Fruitful Darkness and Shamanic Voices

"This book comes highly recommended by Dr. Willard Johnson-my college professor of religious studies-and I second the vote for anyone interested in history, plant drugs, and the origins of Eastern Religion."
American Herb Association, Vol 16:4