Sunday, May 31, 2009
Soma, the Drink of the Gods
Present in the mythologies of various Aryan peoples are tales of a mythical drink which regenerates and bestows youth and even immortality on the Gods.
This drink is called soma by the Hindus and haoma by the Iranians. The similarity between the two terms is no doubt due to the earlier shared culture of the Aryan Iranians and Aryan Indians.
The drink is bestowed by a God of the same name Soma, no doubt a personification of the plant which has been identified by the Hindus as Asclepia acida or Sarcostemma viminale which contains a milky juice of a sweetish subacid flavour. When mixed with honey along with other ingredients it became the very first liquor known to them. The Rig Veda is full of references to this divine drink and its use in sacrifices to the Gods.
Among the myths of various Indo-European peoples there is a connection between the bestowing of this drink by the Gods on to their peoples, the descent of fire and the soul of man.
The drink was also known as methu by the Greeks and meodu by the Anglo-Saxons from the ancient Germanic medu. This is now known to us of course as mead.
Soma also known as amrita by the Hindus has its own tribe of demi-God custodians, the Gandharves also known by the Greeks as Kentaurs, half equine and half human mythical beings.
Whilst the haoma drink of the Iranians is identical linguistically and by type with the soma of the Hindus it comes from a plant which grows like a vine and its leaves are like those of the jessamine.
The Iranians identified two different types of haoma, white and yellow. The yellow grows on mountains and is reserved for religious rites. It was known to Plutarch.
The white haoma is more of a mythical plant which ` grows in heaven`.
The evil Iranian deity known as Ahriman is bent on the plants` destruction. In both Iranian and Hindu mythology the haoma and soma grow very near a sacred and mighty `world tree`. One immediately thinks of the Germanic world tree Yggdrasil which has three roots which each extend to a sacred fountain. These are known as Urdhrbrunnr, Mimirbrunnr and Hvergelmir.
The `water` of Mimir`s well[Mimirbrunnr] is mead. Water from the heavenly Urdbrunnr falls as honey dew. Honey of course is the principal ingredient of mead.
Soma, haoma and mead although having different physical origins are nevertheless mythologically identical and no doubt point back to an earlier Aryan age when the various Aryan peoples resided together as one people before their dispersal throughout Eurasia.
There are tales within both the Vedas and Eddas which tell of a time when the Soma, mead or the Norse apples of life was witheld or stolen by evil forces from the Gods and/or men and everyone grew old.
In various Aryan legends the drink of the Gods was conceived to be a product of a storm and so the boiling or brewing of the earthly soma must have its mythical counterpart in the brewing of the heavenly soma. The storm represents this process and according to Walter Keating Kelly in his Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folk-lore this is the origin of the saying "It`s brewing a storm."
The Vedas refer to the Bhrigus who were an ancient clan of fire priests and associated with the lightning as the yielders of the soma.
Linked with the drink of the Gods are tales of magical cauldrons found in many Aryan mythologies, especially in the Germanic, Celtic and Hindu which were able to impart wisdom, inspiration, supernatural knowledge and immortality. No doubt the later folk-tales of witches and their cauldrons are a remnant of this ancient Aryan idea. Again like the drink or apples of the gods the cauldrons often feature in tales where they are the object of theft or acquisition.
In Valhalla the fallen heroes, the Einheriar are served mead by Valkyries and this mead which is given by the goat Heidrun grants immortality and regeneration to them.
Over the next few months I intend to focus on specific tales that centre upon the theft of the mead, soma, apples or cauldrons to demonstrate a mythological unity in the concept which is found in the surviving mythologies of all the Aryan peoples.