“We have drunk the soma; we have become immortal; we have gone to the light; we have found the gods. What can hostility do to us now, and what the malice of a mortal, o immortal one?”
(Rig Veda, Book 8, Hymn 48, Verse 3)
“THE SPARK HANGS FROM THE FLAME BY THE FINEST THREAD OF FOHAT. IT JOURNEYS THROUGH THE SEVEN WORLDS OF MAYA. IT STOPS IN THE FIRST (Kingdom), AND IS A METAL AND A STONE; IT PASSES INTO THE SECOND (Kingdom) AND BEHOLD – A PLANT; THE PLANT WHIRLS THROUGH SEVEN CHANGES AND BECOMES A SACRED ANIMAL (the first shadow of the physical man). FROM THE COMBINED ATTRIBUTES OF THESE, MANU (man), THE THINKER IS FORMED. WHO FORMS HIM? THE SEVEN LIVES, AND THE ONE LIFE. WHO COMPLETES HIM? THE FIVE-FOLD LHA. AND WHO PERFECTS THE LAST BODY? FISH, SIN, AND SOMA (the moon).”
(Stanza VII, Verse 5 from the Secret Book of Dzyan, translated by H. P. Blavatsky in “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 34, explanatory words added on p. 238)
Anyone who reads the writings of H. P. Blavatsky thoroughly and carefully – particularly her two largest books, “The Secret Doctrine” and “Isis Unveiled” – notices sooner or later numerous references to Soma.
In Greek and Latin “soma” means “body.” But in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, it is a word for the moon, although its literal meaning is “distill,” “extract,” or “sprinkle.”
In Hindu tradition, Soma is most associated, however, with a sacred beverage known as “soma juice” or “soma drink.” How does this relate to the moon and what exactly is it?
A commonly held view nowadays by academics and scholars is that it must be some type of hallucinogenic or psychedelic substance, seeing as its drinking was always associated with blissful spiritual experiences and exhilarating divine perceptions, while purportedly conferring immortality (Amrita in Sanskrit) and enlightenment.
Most admit, however, that they do not know this for sure, seeing as they do not know exactly what plant the Soma plant was, from which the drink was made. Today there are multitudes of theories as to what it was but still no-one knows for sure. Hindu priests themselves have given different identifications as to what it is, leading some to suspect that the soma drink was actually a mixture of various plants.
Its drinking is today not a part of any Hindu rituals or ceremonies – or if it is, these are not publicly known – and almost the only Soma-related practice in today’s Hinduism is the Somayajna, though this does not involve consuming it.
In the tenth of the ten main points (which can all be read here) listed at the end of Vol. 2 of “Isis Unveiled” H. P. Blavatsky writes, amongst other things:
“Plants also have like mystical properties in a most wonderful degree, and the secrets of the herbs of dreams and enchantments are only lost to European science, and useless to say, too, are unknown to it, except in a few marked instances, such as opium and hashish. Yet, the psychical effects of even these few upon the human system are regarded as evidences of a temporary mental disorder. The women of Thessaly and Epirus, the female hierophants of the rites of Sabazius, did not carry their secrets away with the downfall of their sanctuaries. They are still preserved, and those who are aware of the nature of Soma, know the properties of other plants as well.” (p. 589-590)
But lest someone make the assumption from this that HPB is endorsing or promoting the use of hashish (i.e. marijuana, cannabis etc.) or even opium or other such drugs and intoxicant substances, her words in “The Key to Theosophy” (p. 262) must be kept in mind. Answering the question “Then with regard to the use of wine and spirits, I suppose you do not advise people to drink them?” she says:
“They are worse for his moral and spiritual growth than meat, for alcohol in all its forms has a direct, marked, and very deleterious influence on man’s psychic condition. Wine and spirit drinking is only less destructive to the development of the inner powers, than the habitual use of hashish, opium, and similar drugs.”
So such drugs have a destructive effect upon the inner powers of the human being and the development of such powers and faculties. They do not aid it in any way.
With this in mind, and also with the awareness gained from Theosophy that enlightenment must be attained by one’s own efforts and therefore does not come by drinking some juice, some Theosophists have concluded that all of HPB’s statements about Soma are purely metaphorical, allegorical, and symbolic, and refer solely to something inner, metaphysical, and occult.
But this is not entirely accurate. It appears, if one studies carefully, that an actual drink is involved as part of a high initiatory process, although the term and its imagery do also have great symbolic meaning and significance.
By “high initiatory process” here we are not now referring to Hindu Brahmin priests but to the Great Brotherhood of Initiates, Adepts, Masters of Wisdom, or Mahatmas. Yet the role of that drink is revealed by HPB to be something rather different from what one might initially imagine or suppose.
The vast majority of her references to and statements about Soma are vague and do not give any clear or definite insight into the subject. That is certainly deliberate and also necessary since on the few occasions where she does state something clearly and importantly about it, it is still only very brief and what is said indicates how extremely sacred the subject is, leading us to conclude that it is not something permitted by the Masters to be more than hinted at in public print.
In an article by Raghavan Iyer titled “The Aquarian Elixir” (in the September 1982 issue of “Hermes,” a journal that was published by the Santa Barbara Lodge of the United Lodge of Theosophists) it was aptly pointed out: “Wallowing in the mire of seemingly self-devised exoteric ritual, he or she who does not know what it is to live in the world, and yet not be of the world, is incapable of guarding Self against self. No matter what pill or potion, fad or fancy, trick or technique, is taken up to mimic the realities of spiritual wisdom, the result is inevitably unconscious enslavement and voluntary degradation. That is why those who have learnt the painful truth regarding the pertinacity of the exoteric or thaumaturgic tendency in human nature, and have begun in earnest the entirely inward work of theurgy, of purifying their motive and volition, remain reticent before such sacred conceptions as soma, initiation, the Third Eye and Kriyashakti.”
But let us now see several of HPB’s most important and revealing statements and explanations about Soma.
First, on the cosmic and theogonical symbolism of Soma:
“None of the great religions, neither the Ethiopian nor any other, has preceded the religion of the first Vedists: ancient “Budhism.” When one speaks of esoteric Budhism (with one d) to the European public – so ignorant of oriental matters – it is mistaken for Buddhism, the religion of Gautama the Buddha. “Buddha” is a title of the sages and means the “illumined one”; Budhism comes from the word “Budha” (wisdom, intelligence) personified in the Puranas. He [i.e. Budha, Wisdom] is the son of Soma (the moon in its masculine aspect of Lunus) and Tara, the unfaithful wife of Brihaspati (the planet Jupiter), the personification of ceremonial cult, of sacrifice and other exoteric mummeries. [Note: As seen in HPB’s other writings, “the personification of ceremonial cult” and exotericism etc. refers to Brihaspati–Jupiter, not to Tara, although the sentence could be misread that way.] Tara is the soul which aspires to truth, turns away in horror from human dogma which claims to be divine, and rushes into the arms of Soma, god of mystery, of occult nature, whence is born Budha (the veiled but brilliant son), the personification of secret wisdom, of the Esotericism of the occult sciences. This Budha is by thousands of years older than the year 600 . . . before the Christian era, date assigned to the appearance of Gautama the Buddha, prince of Kapilavastu.” (“Misconceptions” article, “Theosophy: Some Rare Perspectives” p. 7)
The entry for “Brihaspati” on p. 64 of “The Theosophical Glossary” tells us that “He is [among other things] the symbol of exoteric ritualism as opposed to esoteric mysticism. Hence the opponent of King Soma – the moon, but also the sacred juice drunk at initiation – the parent of Budha, Secret Wisdom.”
The “Glossary” entry for “Soma” (p. 304) says it is “The moon, and also the juice of the plant of that name used in the temples for trance purposes; a sacred beverage. Soma, the moon, is the symbol of the Secret Wisdom.”
The entry on the same page for “Soma-drink” is lengthy and is largely a collation of various things said by HPB about it in some of her books and articles. Some interesting details there are that “The Soma-drink known to Europeans is not the genuine beverage, but its substitute; for the initiated priests alone can taste of the real Soma; and even kings and Rajas, when sacrificing, receive the substitute. Haug, by his own confession, shows in his Aitareya Brâhmana, that it was not the Soma that he tasted and found nasty, but the juice from the roots of the Nyagradha, a plant or bush which grows on the hills of Poona. We were positively informed that the majority of the sacrificial priests of the Dekkan have lost the secret of the true Soma. It can be found neither in the ritual books nor through oral information. The true followers of the primitive Vedic religion are very few; these are the alleged descendants of the Rishis, the real Agnihôtris, the initiates of the great Mysteries.”
Then the “Glossary” says something which is originally from “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 1, p. xl (in the introductory section “Before The Veil”) which sheds some of the most important light on what the role of the soma juice actually is:
“The soma makes a new man of the initiate; he is reborn and transformed, and his spiritual nature overcomes the physical; it gives the divine power of inspiration, and develops the clairvoyant faculty to the utmost. According to the exoteric explanation the soma is a plant, but, at the same time it is an angel. It forcibly connects the inner, highest “spirit” of man, which spirit is an angel like the mystical soma, with his “irrational soul,” or astral body, and thus united by the power of the magic drink, they soar together above physical nature, and participate during life in the beatitude and ineffable glories of Heaven.”
The last sentence in that quote holds the key to the subject. The drink “forcibly connects the inner, highest “spirit” of man, which spirit is an angel like the mystical soma, with his “irrational soul,” or astral body.”
This is elaborated upon in “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 498-499, where HPB also discloses what plant the drink is actually made from:
“SOMA is the moon astronomically; but in mystical phraseology, it is also the name of the sacred beverage drunk by the Brahmins and the Initiates during their mysteries and sacrificial rites. The “Soma” plant is the asclepias acida [Note: This is more commonly known as cynanchum acidum and is actually one of the many plants that researchers have speculated might be soma], which yields a juice from which that mystic beverage, the Soma drink, is made. Alone the descendants of the Rishis, the Agnihôtri (the fire priests) of the great mysteries knew all its powers. But the real property of the true Soma was (and is) to make a new man of the Initiate, after he is reborn, namely once that he begins to live in his astral body (See “The Elixir of Life” [in] “Five Years of Theosophy”); for, his spiritual nature overcoming the physical, he would soon snap it off and part even from that etherealized form. . . . The partaker of Soma finds himself both linked to his external body, and yet away from it in his spiritual form. The latter, freed from the former, soars for the time being in the ethereal higher regions, becoming virtually “as one of the gods,” and yet preserving in his physical brain the memory of what he sees and learns.”
So, to sum up a few of the most important points:
#1. The role of Soma was, and still is, “to make a new man of the Initiate, after he is reborn.” So it is not that the Soma itself is what causes that inner mystical rebirth and enlightenment; its use is instead for after this has already taken place. There are certainly no shortcuts or easy routes in real esotericism.
#2. Its purpose is to help the Initiate avoid or prevent his (or her) spiritual nature from “snapping off” and separating from the astral body and therefore the physical body too. No doubt the Initiate will be expected to avoid such a fate by their own powers and knowledge eventually but the unspeakable and divine nature and experience of such an initiation could be such that one would have great difficulty in that moment from avoiding this effect. So just as “Isis Unveiled” explained, the drink “forcibly connects the inner, highest “spirit” of man . . . with his . . . astral body.” The beneficial effect being that “The partaker of Soma finds himself both linked to his external body, and yet away from it in his spiritual form. The latter, freed from the former, soars for the time being in the ethereal higher regions, becoming virtually “as one of the gods,” and yet preserving in his physical brain the memory of what he sees and learns.”
We could therefore conclude that the role of the Soma is as a lofty and very highly elevated form of what many people today refer to as “grounding” or “earthing,” although that analogy is undoubtedly trite and insufficient but may help us to grasp at least some conception of why the soma juice is drunk by true Initiates and what it is for. Being such a closely interlinked and vital part of the type of high initiation described here by HPB, it is no wonder that “Soma” and “Initiation” and “Wisdom” have become essentially synonymous and inseparable terms.
But as was said earlier, Soma is an extremely sacred subject. It would be unwarranted and naïve to imagine that the above two points explain the whole truth about Soma. Theosophy gives truth – as much of the Timeless Truth as can safely be divulged to humanity at this time – but it does not claim to give the whole truth about anything, so this should be borne in mind. “The day of the full revelation,” as HPB has called it, is still a very long way off.
That phrase is in fact used by her in this next quote, an excerpt from her article “Thoughts on The Elementals” and in which we realise that there is indeed so much more to Soma.
This passage sheds light on the moon aspect of Soma also. Students of “The Secret Doctrine” are familiar with the concept of the Lunar Pitris and the Lunar Chain or Moon Chain of globes which was the predecessor and parent of our Earth Chain, but “Thoughts on The Elementals” is the only place where HPB explains a little about the occult influences of the full moon and the new moon. The new moon usually occurs around the very end or very beginning of a calendar month and the full moon tends to take place around the middle of each month.
“One of the names of the moon in Sanskrit is Soma, which is also the name, as is well known, of the mystic drink of the Brahmans and shows the connection between the two. A “soma-drinker” attains the power of placing himself in direct rapport with the bright side of the moon, thus deriving inspiration from the concentrated intellectual energy of the blessed ancestors. This “concentration,” and the moon being a storehouse of that Energy, is the secret, the meaning of which must not be revealed, beyond the mere fact of mentioning the continuous pouring out upon the earth from the bright side of the orb of a certain influence.
“This which seems one stream (to the ignorant) is of a dual nature – one giving life and wisdom, the other being lethal. He who can separate the former from the latter, as Kalahamsa separated the milk from the water, which was mixed with it, thus showing great wisdom – will have his reward. The word Pitri does mean, no doubt, the ancestor; but that which is invoked is the lunar wisdom esoterically and not the “Lunar ancestor.” It is this Wisdom that was invoked by Qu-ta-my, the Chaldean, in the “Nabathean Agriculture,” who wrote down “the revelations of the Moon.” But there is the other side to this. If most of the Brahmanical religious ceremonials are connected with the full moon, so do the dark ceremonials of the sorcerers take place at the new moon and its last quarter. For similarly when the lost human being, or sorcerer, attains the consummation of his depraved career, all the evil Karma, and the evil inspiration, comes down upon him as a dark incubus of iniquity from “the dark side of the moon,” which is a terra incognita to Science, but a well explored land to the Adept. The Sorcerer, the Dugpa, who always performs his hellish rites on the day of the new moon, when the benignant influence of the Pitris is at its lowest ebb, crystallizes some of the Satanic energy of his predecessors in evil, and turns it to his own vile ends; while the Brahman, on the other hand, pursues a corresponding benevolent course with the energy bequeathed him by his Pitris . . . . Therefore, this is the true Spiritualism of which the heart and soul have been entirely missed by the modern Spiritualists. When the day of the full revelation comes, it will be seen that the so-called “superstitions” of Brahmanism and the ancient Pagans in general were merely natural and psychical sciences, veiled from the profane eyes of the ignorant multitudes, for fear of desecration and abuse, by allegorical and symbolical disguises that modern science has failed to discover.”
It seems important to note that “that which is invoked is the lunar wisdom esoterically and not the “Lunar ancestor.”” Our lunar ancestors, the Lunar Pitris or Barhishad Pitris, played an essential role in the birth and formation of the first human race on our Earth but nonetheless they stand in contrast with the so-called Solar Pitris (“so-called” because they did not literally come from the physical sun) who are also known as the Kumaras, Manasputras, Agnishvattas, Lords of the Flame, and so forth, for it is this Hierarchy of celestial beings which gave mankind its higher mind, its faculties of self-consciousness and individuality, by incarnating in the Lemurian Root Race and becoming the souls, the immortal Egos, of our humanity. The Lunar Pitris did not themselves possess such faculties, even though they were the most highly evolved beings when the moon was still a living planet. This is gone into in several other articles on this site, such as The Lunar Pitris and Solar Pitris.
It makes sense, therefore, that one would not seek to “invoke” the Lunar Pitris, as this could not serve much purpose. The “lunar wisdom” is the key thing. Some Theosophists associate the moon with only the astral body and our lower nature, not having noticed that the teachings also declare the moon to be an esoteric symbol of wisdom. Both the sun and the moon represent spiritual wisdom. In the entry for “Lunar Gods” in “The Theosophical Glossary” (p. 192-193) we read:
“Strange enough while the modern connect the moon only with lunacy and generation, the ancient nations, who knew better, have, individually and collectively, connected their “wisdom gods” with it. Thus in Egypt the lunar gods are Thoth-Hermes and Chons; in India it is Budha, the Son of Soma, the moon; in Chaldea Nebo is the lunar god of Secret Wisdom, etc., etc. The wife of Thoth, Sifix, the lunar goddess, holds a pole with five rays or the five-pointed star, symbol of man, the Microcosm, in distinction from the Septenary Macrocosm. As in all theogonies a goddess precedes a god, on the principle most likely that the chick can hardly precede its egg, in Chaldea the moon was held as older and more venerable than the Sun, because, as they said, darkness precedes light at every periodical rebirth (or “creation”) of the universe.”
In ancient India, the Suryavansha and the Chandravansha (also called Somavansha, “chandra” and “soma” both being names for the moon) were spoken of, as they still are by some today. The Suryavansha referred to the “solar dynasty” or “solar race” or “solar lineage” present in India and the Chandravansha the “lunar dynasty” or “lunar race” or “lunar lineage.” The Suryavansha is said to have been originated or headed by Ikshvaku or Ikshwaku and the Somavansha by Yadu. These two dynasties were specifically associated with the Kshatriya caste (the caste from which most warriors, military, and kings were drawn) and also with the Rajputs. They were not, however, opposing or mutually warring lineages for, as was said above, both the sun and the moon represent spiritual wisdom.
“The Theosophical Glossary” informs us that “While Rama belonged to the Ayodhya Dynasty of the Suryavansa, Krishna belonged to the line of Yadu of the lunar race, or the Chandravansa, as did Gautama Buddha.” (p. 313-314) HPB acknowledges elsewhere that Buddha was also somehow part of the Solar Dynasty, the Shakyas (from which comes his name of Shakyamuni) being widely recognised as a solar lineage.
This subject is esoterically important but is another one which is not really gone into or explained, most likely because it too contains and conceals many sacred truths. Those who may wish to read and reflect more about it, including how it may relate to that great Mahatma who was the Guru of H. P. Blavatsky, can read a short article titled “The Puranas on The Dynasty of The Moryas and on Koothoomi” in the book “Five Years of Theosophy.”
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