Haoma, a medicinal tea or a hallucinogen???

Avestan Haómá/Haömá or the Vedic Sómá सोम was a sacred plant among the ancient Aryans and has continued to be sacred among Zoroastrians for its special restorative powers. It has been called the elixir of youth and the wine of eternity.

The root of the word comes from “hú or hü,” Sanskrit meaning; “extract, purest essence, nectar.” It is the same as, Old High German saf, german saft, english “sap, liquid extract.” The root word for Haómá is the same as for “hú-mata, hükhta, hvarshta,” or the purest essence in thoughts, words and deeds.

Much speculative nonsense has been written about Haómá but the FACTS are as follow; Haómá is an ephedra plant, almost identical to the Mormon Tea. It is also related to the Chinese plant from which Ma Huang tea is made. The plant is a leafless shrub with jointed stems that can be found in the high arid mountains of the Northern Hemisphere; including the towering, mountains of Afghanistan, Iran, northwestern mountains of the Indian Subcontinent and the high deserts of the southwestern United States. The herb seems to grow best at higher altitudes and prefers rocky, alkaline soil. It needs very little moisture.

In the Avesta, Yasna 9.26 and Yasna 10.4,10,11 confirm that Haömá plant grows close to the summit of lofty mountains of Alborz and present Hindu Kush. Vedic texts also mention that the best soma plants came from Mount Mūjavant, which may be located as in northern Kashmir and in neighboring western Tibet.

The green-yellowish stems of the sacred plant are cut up, pounded then soaked in fresh water for about 20 minutes. The result is a unique herbal tea that is enjoyed with plenty of cream and honey sugar per the Avestan and Vedic accounts.

The local variety of Haömá known as Hoom, growing in the mountains of Yazd, Central Iran, which is used by orthodox Irani Zoroastrians works similarly to Ma Huang but is less strong and has little ephedrine alkaloids. Ma-huang (E. sinica) is a Chinese species of Ephedra which has been used in China for OVER 2,000 years as the principal therapeutic herb for the Chinese.

Some report a mild buzz after drinking copious amounts of Haómá or Hoom, which isn’t surprising, since it contains ephedra. In modest amounts, Haómá or Haömá seems to be a mild stimulant, an excellent substitute for tea and coffee and a very therapeutic herb with a unique taste. The outsized claims associated with it should be taken with a serious grain of salt.

In the Zoroastrian tradition, the role of Haömá or the “Plant of Everlasting Vital Force” is identical to the Greek Nectar, Catholic Communion Wine among other Indo-European sacred drinks. It is prepared during the recital of the most sacred gathic manthras or staót yasn ceremony and is enjoyed at the conclusion of the songs. When Haömá cannot be found it is substituted by consecrated wine.

In the Avesta, Haömá has the entire Yasna 9-11 and Yasht 20 dedicated to it. The sacred plant is also frequently mentioned in the Rigveda. The Sómá or the 9th Mandala contains 114 hymns praising the plant’s energizing qualities. However, the knowledge and practice of Sómá was lost among later Vedic Aryans while it persisted among Zoroastrians.

But was the seer/Prophet Zarathushtra really opposed to Haómá and banned its use???

Reference to Haömá or its epithet is made in Yasna 32.14, 3rd rhymed verse line of the poetic gathas. It says: “They strike at cattle/cow, telling the tale of how the “remover of calamity” is ignited to help, avail.”

“Remover of calamity/misfortune” or düraósha, Vedic durósh is the epithet of the medicinal potion haömá. It literally means: the “driver away of harm or misfortune.” The poetic gathas condemn the sacrificial activity of killing animals, and the vicious notion that by killing the poor animal, calamity/harm is averted from the killer.

Vedic accounts do indeed show that Soma was used as part of sacrificial activity by priests. What prophet Zarathushtra condemns is this murderous association and not the medicinal plant itself.

Also in Yasna 48.10 of the poetic gathas, in the second rhymed verse line there might be an allusion to the medicinal tea.

When shall the worthy O Mazdá, become wise to my inspired vision/mind (mánaröish)??? When shall impurity, blemish (muthrem) be wiped out from the Magian fellowship (or this Wine)??? For they are Evil (añgrayá) and blind, who do not protect the creation, such is the fortitude and wisdom of the evil kings of the realm.

The word for blemish, impurity is muthr, Latin macula “spot stain, impurity” also, Latin mucus “slime, snot, filth.”

Most manuscripts including the ancient commentaries read wiping out filth, impurity from mag-ahyá “magian fellowship” but few read mað-ahyá, “wine,” “medicinal potion.” Farsi may (pronounced just like English may) meaning wine comes from the same root.

The Varshtmanßar commentary explains the concoction of the medicinal potion along blood shedding and sacrificial activity by demon-worshippers. It is the filth of animal sacrifice by ritual priests (Karapan) who are blind in spiritual matters that is strongly condemned in the poetic gathas, as the next rhymed verse talks about the equation of evil with not protecting the creation (See the ancient commentary.)

Furthermore as Harry Falk notes that, in the Avestan and Vedic texts, both haoma and soma are said to enhance alertness and awareness, this does NOT coincide with the consciousness altering effects of an entheogen, and that “there is nothing shamanistic or visionary either in early Vedic or in Old Iranian texts”, (Falk, 1989)

At the conclusion of the 1999 Haoma-Soma workshop in Leiden, Jan E. M. Houben writes: “despite strong attempts to do away with ephedra by those who are eager to see *sauma as a hallucinogen, its status as a serious candidate for the Rigvedic Soma and Avestan Haoma still stands” (Houben, 2003).

The whole controversy about Haómá began with Charles Zaehner, a British academic and MI6 intelligence officer. Zaehner strongly argued that all the ancient commentaries and thousands of years of continuous, unbroken Zoroastrian exegesis of the poetic gathas were part of a vast CONSPIRACY of “Institutional Zoroastrianism” designed to undermine and subvert the true message of Zarathushtra.  Zaehner uses the Haómá/Haömá ritual as evidence of his outlandish claim.

Interestingly enough this CONSPIRACY theory of Zaehner found great popularity among many pseudo-intellectuals and is accepted as a FACT by them.


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3 Responses to Haoma, a medicinal tea or a hallucinogen???

  1. zaneta garratt says:

    very very interesting article-i agree with what you say that zarathustra was never against haoma, this is a wrong translation-maybe the use of ephedra as a medecine should be wider used-i had no idea wine could be used if you cannot find ephedra-(i make spiced wine) -the ephreda plant was also in sweden, it has been found in fossils, but the very severe cold spell at the end of the last ice age killed it completely.-when you speak of zaehner, you mean the guy who wrote about hinduism, zurvanism and the book-The Teachings of the Magi. A compendium of Zoroastrian beliefs. and The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism.-i have read the last 2, they are interesting, He converted to become a roman catholic-i had no idea he was in the british intelligence-he had a real gift for learning languages, lucky fellow, i can just manage two

  2. Cyrus says:

    V.good text.meaningfull.simply put.informative too.

  3. Courtesy of Didier Calin
    PIE *mélit, G *mlités
    Ht. milit, L m(a)litti; Pal. malitanna- ‘containing honey’; Luw. malli(t); HierLuw. malirima- ‘honey-sweet’; Ir. melítion ‘a kind of Scythian drink’; Gr. méli G mélitos, blíttein ‘to gather honey’, mélissa ‘bee’; Arm. mełr, G mełow; Alb. mjaltë, bletë ‘honey-bee’; Lt. mel, G mellis; OIr. mil; W mêl; Br. mel; Goth. miliþ; E mildew.
    ■ HONEY and DIVINE TWINS – PIE *mélit (later replaced by *médhu in some languages) (Hittite, Vedic, Latvian) (Biezais 1976, Calin 96-2012) (►■ BEES and DIVINE TWINS ► BEE)
    ○ Ht. 91/d i 7 “honey of the Sun-god’s offsprings (dUTU-as DUMUMEŠ-as /mil/it)” (with dUTU-us ← Sīus)
    ○ In. a.o. RV 1.15.11a áśvinā píbatam mádhu “drink honey O Aśvins!”, RV 4.45.3 “drink of the honey with (your) honey-drinking mouths (mádhvaḥ… madhupébhiḥ), O Aśvins (aśvinā) and harness your dear chariot for honey (mádhune), you vitalize the pathway with honey (mádhunā), you bring the hide that contains honey (mádhumantam)”, RV 4.43.5c “they sprinkle your ( = Aśvins) honey/mead with honey, O honeyed ones (mádhvā mādhvī mádhu)!”
    ○ Lv. LD 19658 Dieva dēli … medū rokas mērcēdami “Dievs’ sons who soak their hands in honey”
    + LD 29201 “Ūsiņš (Ūziņš) gave a hive full of honey (medus)”

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