Sunday, November 13, 2011

Cannabis and the Soma Solution, by Chris Bennett

Published by Trine Day ISBN 978-0984185801 Review by Samuel Wells

When asked to name an author crucial to the growing mainstream understanding of the uses of cannabis and its role in history, culture, and religion, almost every educat- ed marijuana activist and patient across the world would naturally answer, “Jack Herer,” Jack’s classic collection, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, is a must-read for every- one interested in the uses of industrial hemp, the early medical explorations of therapeutic toking, and the madness of prohibition. The book has rightly been lauded as a landmark in cannabis history; many texts and tomes published in the years since its release simply do what they can to fill in the gaps in the contemporary historical narrative. Chris Bennett’s astonishing new piece of scholarship, Cannabis and the Soma Solution, absolutely deserves a place directly adjacent to the work of Jack Herer on every reader’s bookshelf. This clever and detailed dissertation is one of the most important academic works ever created in the field of marijuana anthropology.

At the heart of the matter is the true identity of the ancient magical elixir Soma (also Haoma), venerated in the Hindu Vedic scriptures as being the key to immortality. Since 1967, the predominant theory of the identity of Soma has been that of banker-mycologist Gordon Wasson, who claimed the holy beverage came from the toxic fly agaric mushroom, Amanita muscaria. Bennett seems to come from the take-no-prisoners approach to historical argument; he wastes little time in analyzing and countering a vast majority of Wasson’s argument early in his 500-page thesis. The pattern holds true for the rest of the intimidatingly well-researched and argued book. Through detailed analysis, illustrations, and careful source citation, Chris Bennett takes his reader on a whirlwind tour through human history and culture with only one goal: to prove that the oldest-known spiritual sacrament on the planet was created from cannabis.

To say that he succeeds in this goal is a vast understatement. Readers can expect to absorb volumes of facts on the smoking cups of the horse-riding, nomadic Scythians, the “magic mountain” incense braziers of the ancient Chinese physicians, and India’s notorious beverage, bhang. Even when dazzling the reader with his erudition and research, Bennett never takes his eyes off the prize; he makes sure to follow the evolution and alteration of the term Soma/Haoma as it moves from culture to culture and forward in time. He clearly demonstrates how the ingredients of Soma were hidden or falsified by jealous priests and reactionary contemporary historians. This linguistic history provides a solid foundation for the rest of Bennett’s arguments and claims, all of which are carefully and thoroughly cited. Cannabis and the Soma Solution ranges from analysis of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs to Greece, Rome, and Persia, with assurance born of the author’s certainty in his cause. Bennett’s work on the ancient Hebrew and Christian use of cannabis in potent anointing oil is enough to justify the purchase of this impressive book; although only a fraction of the larger his- torical context, the argument and proof presented to the reader is first-rate scholarship.

Every cannabis aficionado, patient, and advocate will find something of great value in Chris Bennett’s Cannabis and the Soma Solution. The great Jack Herer laid the foundation of our understanding of the foolishness of cannabis prohibition in its modern form: Chris Bennett has performed an invaluable service by proving once and for all that the oldest and greatest spiritual sacrament in human history is cannabis use.

No comments: