Review to the Wasson’s Soma
Indo-Iranian Journal, vol. 12, pp. 279-285, 1970
1. When Hillebrandt in his Vedische Mythologie (vol. P.
pp. 193-498) gathered all the indications of the Rgveda and the later
literature that might give a clue to the identification of the Soma plant—a
much disputed problem up to that time and ever since —, he wrote in his
preliminary remarks the following words which deserve to be kept in mind by
anyone dealing with this subject: "Ich habe nicht den Eindruck, dass die
Pflanze, welche einst den Vorvätern der vedischen Inder als die trefflichste
galt, notwendig eins mit der gewesen sein muss, welche von ihren Naehkommen
in indischen Landen zur Gewinnung ihres Göttertrankes gebraucht wurde."
The complexities of the problem should not, indeed, be underestimated. Among
them the following should be stressed:
a. The ancestors of the Aryans (both Indian and Iranian) pressed
a beverage from a plant to which they attributed a miraculous potency. Both
the plant and its juice they called *Sauma- "pressing". Parallels
in the Old Nordish mythology, to which Adalbert Kuhn was the first to draw attention
in 1859, suggest the conclusion that the practice of crushing the stalks of
that plant and drinking its juice was a Proto-Indo-Iranian innovation and that
the *Sauma has taken the place which the *médhu "mead"
had in the older religion. This may account for the fact that mádhu is
still occasionally used in the poetic idiom of the Rigveda to denote
the Soma. Just when and where this change may have taken place one cannot say
but it is not impossible that the use and worship of the *Sauma- was
borrowed by the Proto-Indo-Iranian speaking peoples from Borne foreign culture
at a time when they bad already split ~ as a separate community from the other
groups which spoke Indo-European languages (see below, p. 284).
b. On the other hand, this Sauma soon got a central place, along
with Agni, in the mythology and particularly in the cosmogonical myth. Both
the Avesta and the Veda state that the plant grew on the top of
mountains. As far as the Veda is concerned, it seem that Soma and Agni
were conceived of as having originally dwelt within the primordial hill, where
they were guarded by a snake or dragon (áhi) who impersonated
the power of "resistance" (vrtra-). Hence Soma, like
Agni, belonged to the primeval world of undivided unity which was the realm
of the "Father Asura" (RS.X.124.3). The mythic pattern, accordingly,
demanded that the plant which in the ritual functioned as the representative
of its mythic prototype should grow on the mountains, and collecting it must
have been considered an "impure," if not dangerous, affair. The ritual
of the purchase of the Soma plant, as a preliminary to the Soma sacrifice, makes
it quite clear that the Soma was at first identical with the inauspicious and
dangerous god Varuna and that all precautions had to be taken with regard to
it. Hence it is that Brahmin who sells it (not a sudra, As Hilldebrandt states
on the basis of a late Sutra), is identified with the snake demon Krsanu, who
guarded it in the primordial world of darkness (apad asta S.B. 126.96.36.199.,
III.3.4.10, (à)star áhasta Krsana M.S. I.2.5: p. 14, 11, cf. III.7.7:
p. 84,16, III.8.10: p. 109,10 and svana bhrajeti japati somavikrayinam iksamanah,
Katy, VII.8.24). This brahmin takes on himself the darkness of the sacrificer
(TS. VI.1.10.4, .Ap. X.26.14, Hir. VII.2.8).
c. In the light of this mythic background it would seem likely
that the botanical identity of the plant with which the ancient Indians performed
the pressing ritual of their ancestors was to them of minor importance, their
main concern being the reiteration of the sacred act itself A confirmation
of this conclusion may be seen in the circumstance that many substitutes for
the authentic Soma plant (whatever idea the ritualists may have had of the latter)
were admitted. According to modern scholars of the Vaidika Samsodhana Mandala
in Poona the substitute has only to meet the following requirements (Wasson,
p. 14): "the plant should be small, it should be leafless, and it should
possess fleshy stalks."
2. In this magnificently produced book Gordon Wasson (if I am
not mistaken, the only living ethno-rnycologist today) has set himself the task
of identifying as a botanist the original Soma plant. The work is a monument
of devotion, zeal and courage, in which the author tries to defend the unorthodox
theory that the original Soma-plant was the fly-agaric (Amanita muscaria).
Leaving aside Hiliebrandt’s detailed analysis of the characteristics of
the plan. (Ved. Myth., F, pp. 204-247) and the convenient arrangement
of the Rigvedic data in the Index to Geldner’s translation (pp. 234 f., 241-243,
248-250) he here checks his theory against the description of the plant as found
in book IX of the Rigveda. In addition he has invoked the assistance
of a professional Sanskritist, Dr. Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, who contributed
Part Two of the book, on "The Post-Vedic History of the Soma Plant"
(pp. 95-147, including a chapter on "Later Researches in the Twentieth
Century", pp. 130-147).
For his study of the Rigvedic evidence Wasson has mainly made
use of the recent translations by Renou (Et.vêd.et pan., VIII and IX)
and Bhawe, The Soma Hymns (whose reliability in philological matters
lie overestimated). Since this is no philological work the only thing that matters
is what special contribution Wasson, with his unique knowledge of the use of
hallucinogenic plants among archaic peoples, is able to make towards the problem
of Soma. However, although a discussion of philological details would be out
of place here, the difference between the general methodological approach of
the philologist and historian of religion on the one hand, and that of the botanist
on the other, can hardly be ignored since this affects even the primary question:
what exactly is the "problem of Soma"?
The Indian priest who crushed the Soma stalks knew that this ritual
meant the killing of King Soma in order to make free his victorious, invigorating
and life-promoting power. Besides clear indications of a rain magic, some general
cosmological notions should be borne in mind. Agni and Soma represent two parallel,
but also contrasting aspects of the organized cosmos. In the cosmic classificatory
system they are mostly attributed to different points of the compass and the
phenomena of this world can be classified according as they have a predominant
Agni-nature (manifested by téjas-) or a more pronounced Soma-character
(saúmya-). Just as Agni Vaisvinara is conceived of as representing
the cosmic totality and as such is identified with the Tree of Life in the world
centre, so Soma is said to grow "in the navel of the earth, on the mountains"
(IX.82.3). It may be of importance in this connection that where in the Vrtra-myth
mention is made of "mountains" this appears to be a mere poetic
variant for the more frequent reference to the "mountain",
which no doubt means the primordial bill. So, when in another passage (IX.74.4)
it is said with reference to the Soma-pressing that "the navel of the cosmic
order, (the beverage of) life is born", the underlying idea must be that
Soma in its mythic aspect was closely connected with the world centre.
3. It is a well-known fact that the constant references to the
mythic prototypes constitute one of the main difficulties of the interpretation
of the Vedic hymns. The words of the poets are often intentionally ambiguous
since they refer at the same time so to say, to two different levels: that of
the ritual and that of the myth. it is necessary to stress this point
because for many passages which Wasson explains as descriptions of the fly-aganc
the possibility of widely divergent interpretations is open.
As a single instance that illustrates this fundamental difficulty
I may quote IX 71.2 pra krstihéva susa eti róruvad, asuryàm varnam ni rinite
asya tám /jáhati vavrim pitúr etiniskrtam, upaprútam krnute nirnijam rana, which
Wasson renders as follows: "Aggressive as a killer of peoples he advances,
bellowing with power. He sloughs off the Asurian colour that is his. He abandons
his envelope, goes to the rendez-vous with the Father. With what floats he makes
continually his vesture-of-grand-occasion." These lines, when taken as
referring to the mushroom, may be interpreted as follows (Wasson, p. 40): "In
the first line the poet reminds us of the extraordinary strength displayed by
a simple mushroom in forcing its way to the surface against obstacles. ‘Asurian’
is not a colour: it is the radiance associated with Asuras, which at this period
in Indo-Aryan history meant the divinities. The fly-agaric sloughs off the radiant
envelope that the ‘universal veil, and prepares to meet with the Sky (= Father).
He dons of course his gorgeous apparel, his nirnij..."
The epithet krstihan-, which presents one of the
minor difficulties of this stanza, may owe its origin to the fact that as early
as the common Indo-Iranian period *Sauma- must have been considered a
"slayer of resistance" (*vrtrajhán-, cf. Ved. vrtrahán-, Av. varatrajan-). On the "Asurian colour", however,
the comments do not throw much light. Roth conjectured "Charakter"
for várna- (PW, VI , col. 739), which was accepted
by Bergaigne, Rel.véd., III (1883), p. 85 ("nature") and von
Bradke, Dyáus Asura (1885), pp. 27, 38 ("Art"). Ludwig, however,
rejected Roth’s interpretation (Der Rigveda, 11, 1876, p. 475) and the
modern translators Geldner and Renou follow him in rendering the phrase as "his
Asuric colour". The main reason for this divergence probably was that Roth’s
meaning "Charakter" was mainly based upon brahaman texts, whereas
according to the current opinion the Asuras have only in the last period of
the Rigveda and in the brahmanas come to be considered as "demons",
in fact, however, Devas and Asuras can be shown to represent the two cosmic
moieties and there would not seem to be a fundamental difference in this respect
between the older parts of the RigVeda and the later Vedic literature:
the Asuras are the gods of the primordial undivided world and, as such, the
"elder brothers" of the Devas.
Now it is a well-known fact that according to the brähmanas "King
Soma", when bought from the Soma vendor, is Varuna as long as he is tied
up. Cf. MS. 111.7.8 (p. 85,17ff.), KS. XXIV.6 (p. 96,2), KKS.
XXXVII.7 (p. 201,6f.), TS. VI.l.11.4-5. During this time Soma has
a dangerous and inauspicious character, cf. AB. 1.13.24-26. In this light
it may be understood that both Agni and Soma are called asurya- (JB.
11.155,1.7 tasmad ahur agnisomav asuryav iti, cf. KS XXX1V.3:
p. 37,19f. Somo va eso ‘surya iva tu, tasman na ‘bhisutyah) and that Soma is sometimes even identified with Vrtra. Cf. MS. 111.7.8
sómo vai vrtráh, KS. XX1V.9: p. 100,14, KKS. XXXVIII.2:
p. 206,12 somo vrtro, SB. III. 4.3.13, IV.2.5.15 vrtró vai
sóma asit, tásyaitác chariram, yad giráyo.
Geldner, in a note to IX.71.2, rightly refers to IX.99.1 "where
Soma in his first stage [that is, in the shape of Varuma] is apparently called
asura" (similarly IX.73.1, 74.7). In the course of the ritual, however,
Soma casts off his Asuric várna-. It is curious that Geldner here
translates "colour" although in a note ad 1.176.6, where it is said
of Agastya ubhaú varnav rsir ugráh puposa, he bad tightly
pointed to a specific meaning of várna- in the two oldest Yajurvedic
texts (MS., KS.). He omitted to quote, however, KS. IX.11
(p. 112,20-113,1), a passage which depicts how Prajapati created the Devas and
Asuras at representatives of the two cosmic moieties: ahna devan asrjata,
te suklam varnam apusyan, ratrya surams, te krsna abhavan. With this passage
we may compare vs. 11.4, VSK. 11.3 where the garment of the consecrated
(diksita-) is addressed in the words tam tva sivam sagmam
pári dadhe bhadrám várnam púsyan. Here the corresponding brähmana (SB.
III.I.2.20) opposes the bhadram varnam to the papam várnam, which the diksita had "fostered" when unconsecrated. It is clear
that as early as the Rigveda varnam pus- was a set phrase. Agastya, who
(like Prajapati, and Kasyapa in the later mythology) represented the totality,
"fostered the two moieties", that is the dasa- varna- (11.12.4)
as well as the arya- várna- (111.34.9). A similar interpretation may
be suggested for 1.73.7 nákta ca cakrúr usása virupe, krsnám ca várnam arunám
ca sám dhuh, where the reference is not so much to the colour as
rather to the contrasting cosmic moieties.
It is, indeed, especially with reference to the contrast between
day and night that the word varna- is used. Cf., e.g., KS. VIII.3
(p. 86,3 if.), KKS. VI.8 (p. 67.15ff.) âgneyi vai ratry, aindram ahar,
yad udite surya adadhita gneyad varnad iyad, yad anudita aindrad, anudite ‘pare
adheya, udite purva, ubha eve ‘ndragnyor varna apnoty, asurya vai ratri varnena,
sukriyam ahas, sukriya adhatte ya [yad KKS] udite surya adhatte.
That varna- here denotes a group, rather than "Charakter"
(as Roth translated it) is apparent from such passages as AB. VL36.l4,
where Indra asuryam varnam abhidasantam apahan "smote away the Asuric
party when attacking" (not "the Asura hue", as Keith rendered
it, because it paraphrases the preceding asuravisam. So varna-
denotes what later in a non-religious sense was expressed by paksa- "a
half, side, party, faction". These two "parties" (note the reference,
not to dvaú but to ubhaú várnau RS. I.179.6, MS. III.3.3,
p. 34,19, PR. XII.3.5. etc.) manifested themselves on the level of the
gods in the contrast of Devas and Asuras, on the social level in that of aryas
and dasas1 and on the level of nature in that of day and
Since the Rigveda in its use of the phrases varnam pusyati
and ubhaú várnau fully agrees with the linguistic usage of the brähmanas,
the words asuryàm varnam in IX.7 1.2 may also be interpreted in the light
of the later evidence. Consequently asuryam várnam ni rinite asya tám must
mean that Soma "casts off this Asuric party that is his", that is,
that aspect that is connected with Varuna and the primeval world. Later texts
would have said that Soma is no longer varunadevatya- (MS. III.7.8:
p.85,18) or vâruna- (KS. XXIV.6: p. 96,17, KKS. XXXVII.7:
p. 201,21). In stanza 8 of the same hymn, Soma’s várna- is said to assume
a resplendent appearance; tvesam rupám krnute varno asya (which Geldner
and Renou, unlike Ludwig, erroneously take as two sentences). This can only
refer to Soma’s new "party" (against Renou, EVP., IX, p. 82).2
4. A comparison M.S. IX.71.2 with IX.68.2 (and 14.4), to
which Geldner refers, shows that the whole verse depicts the Soma-pressing and
that the words jahati vavrim (like hitvi vavrim in 69.9) must
be interpreted in the light of IX.14.4 jáhac cháryani tanva, 68.2 ní
saryani dadhate devá á váram. See Geldner and Renou, EVP., 1X,
p.75: "parties fibreuses".
It is not, of course, the object of this lengthy discussion to
show that Wasson’s comment on IX.71.2, viz. "The fly-agaric sloughs off
the radiant envelope that is his" cannot be accepted for philological reasons.
Generally speaking, his interesting attempt to interpret the Vedic evidence
in the light of his novel theory encounters difficulties when the separate passages
are considered in the context of Vedic mythological and ritualistic thought.
Such a passage like IX.86.44c ahir ná jürnam áti sarpati
tvácam, rendered as "like a serpent he creeps out of his old skin"
(p. 41), when considered separately, might suggest the idea that it depicts
the fly-agaric. Tempting though this may seem at first sight, the whole stanza,
with the words mahi ná dhara ‘ty ándho arsati "like a big stream
the juice runs through (the filter)" immediately preceding in b,
shows that this passage, too, refers to the ritual pressing.
In spite of the beautiful and suggestive photos of a fly-agaric
in day-light and at night (plate VIII a and b) it remains doubtful if IX.97.9
diva harir dadrse náktam rjráh proves anything in favour of his theory.
Cf., e.g., Hillebrandt, Ved.Myth., I2, p. 327, Lüders, Varuna,
pp. 214, 267.
If we were to look for Vedic evidence in support of Wasson’s theory,
the strongest argument in my opinion would be the frequent statement of the
poets that Soma is the cosmic pillar which supports the sky in the world centre
(p. 471.). Cf., e.g., IX.72.7 nabha prthivya dharúno mahó divó. The
same, however, is said of Agni, who is also "in the navel of the earth"
(I.59.2. cf. 1) and supports the sky (111.5.10, V1.8.3) and, besides, the notion
of a world pillar is primarily a mythical one. The question as to whether Soma
as a pillar has been directly identified with the world tree has been answered
in different ways (pro: Lommel, Wörter und Sachen, 19 ,
p. 244, contra: Thieme, Untersuchungen zur Wortkunde und Auslegung
des Rigveda, p. 70 n. 5, cf. Adalbert Kuhn, Die Herabkunft des
Feuers unddes Göttertranks . p. 149f.). In any case, the general mythical
notion of a central cosmic pillar hardly owes its origin to any natural phenomenon.
It must be admitted, though, that the fly-agaric, if it would have occurred
in the Panjab, might have been regarded as a striking manifestation of that
notion (see plate XI).
Similarly the enigmatic epithet sahásrabhrsti- in IX.83.5,
86.40, where it is applied to Soma, would find an interesting illustration in
the mushroom (p. 59 and plate XII) but its more frequent occurrence as an epithet
of the vájra- (four times) points to a different meaning from that assumed by
Wasson. It must be conceded that Hillebrandt’s identification of Soma with the
Moon (Ved.Myth., I, p. 312) does not account for the use of this
word but the great number of epithets of Soma with sahásra- as their
first member (Renou, EVP., VIII, p. 62) should be noted. Incidentally
it may be noted that Bhawe’s translation of vás4uni IX 15.6 by "shining"
(p. 59) is one of his unacceptable eccentricities.
5. Since the evidence of the ninth book of the Rigveda turns
out to be so elusive, the question arises whether one of "The Ground Rules
of the Search" (p. 12) is likely to be correct. Here Wasson states that
"It is certain that the poets of the Rgveda knew the original Soma at first
hand, and they never strayed from it for long. I invoke later texts and the
Avesta only where they help us to know what the Rgveda means." One wonders
why this preference should be given to hymns that for the greater part must
have been composed in the hot plains of the Indus valley. The Avesta, it is true, does not yield much useful information but, on the other hand,
Zarathustra lived in a non-tropical climate. Why could he not have known "the
original Soma" (in any case, something nearer to the original hallucinogenic
plant) better than the Vedic Indians? The fly-agaric grows only in an underground
relationship with the pines, the firs and above all the birches" (pp. 13,
212). Since there is ample evidence to show that the fly-agaric can also be
"taken in the urine of the person who has ingested it" directly (p.
25 and passim), the surprising novel interpretation of Zarathustra’s
words mütram ahyâ madahya Y. 48.10 (p. 32) may well contain a grain of
truth, more so than the ambiguous term áva mehanti in RS. IX.74.4
However that may be, the *Sauma- must have been firmly
rooted in the proto-Indo-Iranian cosmogony, as is shown by the myth of the eagle
bringing the Soma plant (apparently from the primordial world, called "rock"
or "heaven") to Indra in order to give him the strength necessary
for performing his mythic exploit. It should be noted that sometimes the poets
still use the ancient Indo-European word mádhu in this connection, as
in 1V. 18.13 ádha me syenó mádhv jabhara "then the eagle brought
me the mead". As far back as 1859 Adalbert Kuhn drew attention to a similar
myth in the Snorra Edda, where Odhin contrives to get access to the mead
of Suttung, which was hidden in the mountain Hnitbjorg, by boring a hole and
entering the mountain through it in the shape of a snake. After having drunk
all the mead of the three barrels he flies away in the shape of an eagle but,
being pursued by Suttung, he loses some of the mead (just as the archer Krsanu
shoots some feathers from the eagle). See Die Herabkunft des Feuers und des
Göttertranks, p. 149f. (A translation of this passage can be found,
e.g., in Hugo Geriong, Die Edda übers undd erläutert, p. 356f.)
It would seem a reasonable conjecture, therefore, that at some moment in their
common prehistory the Indo-Iranians, having become acquainted with the practice
of crushing and pressing a certain plant and drinking its juice which had an
invigorating effect, substituted the *Sauma- for the older mádhu. At that time, however, they may still have been living far to the north
or north-east of their later habitat. This means that the search for "the
original Soma" might lead as far beyond the field of Indo-Iranian studies
proper. Wasson also points to the possibility that, if there has been borrowing
(in whatever direction, this might have occurred "before the Aryans emigrated
to what has since been called Iran" (p. 331).
The invigorating effect of the drinking of the Soma, of which
the Rigvedic poets tell us, may ultimately have been based upon real experience
and is, indeed, strongly reminiscent of the effects of JUSTIFYeating the fly-agaric.
In the Rigveda, however, this is primarily sacred tradition and
it remains doubtful how much factual knowledge about the original hallucinogen
still survived among the priests. Wasson, with his unique knowledge of the use
of hallucinogens in Eurasia, may be perfectly right in assuming that the original
Soma plant was the Amanita muscaria but to prove this the evidence of
the Rigveda would seem to lack decisive force.
6. In conclusion it should be stressed that in view of the amazingly
wide horizon of Wasson’s work, which deals with botany, modern folk-lore, prehistoric
and historical cultures and linguistic details ranging from the British Isles
to China, no specialist in a comparatively small field like the Rigveda is
competent to judge on the theory as a whole. One reads the book with absorbed
interest and its main theory deserves thorough consideration from the viewpoint
of different disciplines. It must be regretted, therefore, that neither the
small number of copies issued (only 680), nor the price of the book (S
200 or Dglds. 720), nor even its title are conducive to such an ample discussion.
If the title were "The role of the fly-agaric in the prehistoric and historical
cultures of Eurasia", the book might attract the attention of a wider circle
of competent critics. "Soma" is not comprehensive enough as a title
of this book because it focuses the interest on the minor problem of "the
original Soma", which in my opinion cannot be solved beyond doubt.
There are two details that deserve special mention. Among the
fascinating vistas opened by this book is the suggestion that mushrooms may
have been used for shamanic practices among Uralian peoples from 6000 B.C. onwards.
On the other hand, there as a remarkable mycophobia "in the ring of people
who dwell around the shores of the North and Irish seas in gigantic and evil
fairy-rings, as .. were, embracing the surviving Celts, many of the Germanic
peoples, provincial France (where the ‘toad’ figure may have come down from
the Gauls), and the Spanish Basque country of Guipuzcoa and Biscay" (p.
186). This mycophobia Wasson ascribes to a prehistoric taboo, which can explain
why in these areas the fly-agaric has been considered poisonous up to recent
years. On the other hand, it is here (though not exclusively here) that
the mushroom is connected with the toad, it being called the toad’s "stool",
"hat" or "skin". One can imagine that a mushroom evoked
the idea of a stool, but why, then, a "toad-stool", "paddestoel"?
Now, toads have of old been considered venomous, and in addition to the use
of a toad as the first ingredient of the concoction of the three witches in
Macbeth, Act IV, scene 1, line 6 (see Wasson, p. 188) may be quoted Topsell,
History of Serpents, ed. 1658, p. 730 (which quotation occurs
in the Arden Edition of Macbeth by Kenneth Muir, London, 1963, p. 109):
"All manner of toads, both of the earth and of the water, are venomous...
The women-witches of ancient time which killed by poisoning, did much use Toads
in their confections." This venomousness, although explained from the fact
that the secretion of their skin-glands "contains a poisonous substance
(phrynin) acrid enough to be felt on tongue or eyes", seems nevertheless
to a large extent to be due to superstition (see Handwörterbuch des deutschen
Aberglaubens, V [1932-33], col. 608 f.). In some parts of Germany
toads are considered "heilsam", just as in Ancientt Greece (col 612f)
and sometimes, especially to >Switzerland, they are respected as "Hausgeist"
(col. 628). This close relation between mushrooms and toads, however, is unlikely
to be due to their supposed venomous nature, since "toad-mushroom"
is in China the common name for the "fly-agaric" (Wasson, p. 189).
On the other hand, if the popular belief in Western Europe which considers the
fly-agarics venomous is rightly attributed to a very old taboo, the question
may arise if a similar belief with regard to the toad may possibly have the
Finally a linguistic detail may here be briefly be touched upon
because of the far-reaching conclusions that could possibly be drawn from it.
In the beginning of this century Holger Pedersen, then still a young man, proposed
to connect etymologically Old Church Slavonic goba, Old High German swamb, Greek sphóngos and Latin fungus (see Wasson, pp. 168. 319f.).
At that time Pedersen could only conceive of such an etymological connection
in terms of a common Proto-Indo-European origin, in which case, however, the
phonological difficulties are considerable. It is significant that in spite
of these difficulties some sound etymologists (like N. van Wijk and Berneker)
considered this idea "seductive". Nowadays our judgment will be different
in so far as not a few, while retaining Pedersen’s basic idea, will no longer
try to trace these words back to a Proto-Indo-European ancestor. As for Greek
spóngos, Latin fungus and Armenian sunk, sung, they are now explained as an "altes Wanderwort", see Frisk, Griech.
etym. Wörterbuch, Lief. 19 (1968), p. 770. On the other hand, the Germanic
words presuppose four different prehistoric variants, viz. *swamba-,
*swamma-, *swampu- and *swumpa. See, e.g., Falk-Torp,
Wortschatz der germanischen Spracheeinheit (1909), p. 549. They accordingly
show the same type of variation as Dutch klem: kkzmp: MHG. klambe
(see Mnemes Charin, I, p. 223 n. 53), which is not suggestive
of taboo-deformation but rather points to borrowing from some non-Indo-European
source. The idea that "the pon cluster of the Uralic peoples"
(p. 169) may have correspondences in some Indo-European languages is attractive
but, if so, the connection would have to be restricted to the Mediterranean
word-family of fungus. This would rule out the possibility of an indo-European
origin of the pon cluster. It may still be true, then, that the mushroom
has played a role in the religious life of "our own remotest ancestors"
or "our own European ancestors" (both p.172, cf. pp. 202, 209) if
only this term is not taken in a too narrow, strictly linguistic, sense.
1) Cf. TB. 188.8.131.52 daívya vai várno brahmanah, asuryàh
2) It must be conceded that here the meaning "group, party"
seems to border upon "group-character" so that the meaning might be
paraphrased by "the character of his group manifests itself by its resplendent
appearance". In later texts it seems to have become more or less synonymous
with rüpa-, várnam kr- being used for what in the Rigveda still
is rüpám kr-. Cf. TB. I.4.7.1 asuryh va etásmad várnam krtva
pasávo viryam ápakramanti yásya yupo viróhati… yá evá rupanam tse, sò ‘smin
pasun viryam yacchati. Similarly PB. IX.10.2, where the commentator
glosses varnam by rüpam. The same shift of meaning may
occur in TB. III.7.13.2 áhac chárrram páyasa samétya, anyò ‘nyo bhavati
várno asya. A detailed investigation of the use of várna- in
the later literature would, however, be out of order here.