This is an extract from my (second) substantive article on the Indo-European ‘Interpretatio’ of Dionysus which we ran last year – this portion focusing upon the empowering elixir known variously as Soma , Kvasir , the Mead of Poetry – and how it is evident that the Indo-European traditions around this diverged, with an emphasis of crude alcohol over the more authentic substance(s) as time wore on. There is much more that can be said upon this matter (particularly as applies the Scythian situation), and I’ve discussed various of these in my previous works and interviews.
The True Distillation Of The Indo-European Elixir – The Brew Which Is True
This ‘altering elixir’ is known to the Old Norse as the Mead of Poetry ; and to the Vedic religion as Soma; and it is interesting and important to note just how closely correlated these two understandings actually are – something I have demonstrated in my series upon the subject via direct cross-comparison of the Eddic and Vedic accounts of their obtaining. By which I mean both the ‘ritual’ production thereof (in the case of the Soma) and the mythological presentation which also helps to encode these. In these two cultures, we find the Sky Father in the form of a Raptor bringing from Heaven the three vessels. Although it is important to note that whereas the Vedic Soma is quite plausibly explained via having some psychedelic psychoactive such as psilocybin as its active ingredient (and we have archaeological support for this) – the Norse appear to have more closely correlated their concept, perhaps for cultural reasons, with that of an alcoholic beverage. Given the strong concordance between the Nordic mythic account of the Meath of Poetry’s obtaining and the Vedic ritual elements, which lead one to the deduction that the Nordic myth is preserving the same ritual processes as the Vedic manuals upon the subject … it is evident that if there is a divergence between Vedic and Eddic elixirs – that somebody has deviated. And I would posit that it is more likely the later and more fragmentarily attested tradition that has done this, rather than the far earlier and more comprehensively preserved one.
I raise these points, because as applies the figure of Dionysus, we of course have the strong association with the alcoholic beverage – and the state that this induces, which whilst it might be compared to the Furor concept, strikes me as a rather different kind of altered state indeed. That of drunkenness rather than the more ‘pure’ empowerment.
This helps to explicate just why the Scythians in Herodotus are so appalled by their King becoming a Bacchic initiate – they do pointedly express their horror at the spectacle of inebriation via alcohol; and yet we know that they also had ‘ecstatic’ religious states and figures of their own – including the imbibing of drug-infused consumables (and it is interesting to note the co-occurrence of cannabis-milk amidst both Scythian and modern-day Shaivite alike). Perhaps, therefore, they saw in the Bacchic cult revelry something that was a dark and to their view, ‘degenerated’ reflection or recollection of their own rites and sacred conduct. And, given the famed Scythian religious conservatism, perhaps this is further evidence that the Greek and to an extent Nordic emphasis upon alcohol instead of more authentic entheogenics is the ‘deterioration’. Acts of substitution in some ways comparable to – although actually the opposite of – the Zoroastrian substitution of ephedra for the essential ingredient(s) of the Vedic Soma. I say ‘actually the opposite of’, because the utilization of ephedra seems to be designed to promote the opposite of a wild and unconstrained state – a deliberate choice presumably the result of the prominent Zoroastrian opposition to such ‘wild’ and ‘free-moving’ elements. It is, after all, not at all coincidental that two of the major demons of the Zoroastrians are Indra and Rudra – the two ‘uncontrollable’ Gods Who also have such close relationship with the Soma (and the Nasatyas – also involved in Soma’s preparation, find similar status amidst their twisted ‘demonology’).
Importantly, this does NOT fully discount the possibility for continued utilization of other, non-alcoholic preparations or ingestions for ‘interior’ cultic use – by Greeks or Norsemen. But that is another area of inquiry for another time.
Since writing this, it has occurred that the Nordic utilization of alcohol might actually make logical sense as either an *extraction* for the active elements from the mushrooms in question (a process still utilized today), or potentially also as a preservation mechanism (again, something which can be done today).
In other words, it might not represent such a departure as I had initially presumed – but instead, merely a loka-lized adaptation for circumstances.
Still, I am not sure how the addition of alcohol in this way – or the long-term preservation via suspension in solution – might impact the entheogenic experience resultant from same. My personal experiences adding alcohol to psychedelic mushroomery were … somewhat different from what I would consider the ideal.
Interesting food for thought and for the mind, in any case.