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Chemically-induced otherworldly experiences of Zoroastrians in Iran

May 25, 2022 @ 9:15 am June 30, 2092 @ 10:35 pm

Shauheen Etminan

State of Maga (mēnôg – middle Persian), mentioned in the Zarathustra’s Gâthâ (the most ancient parts of the Zoroastrian’s holy book Avesta) and the trance state of M’ana (مع نی ) referred to by renown Persian mystic and poets Rumi and Hafez is commonly described as a special illumination, a form of transcendental knowledge beyond language and perception. While the pursuit of the world of M’ana is deeply mystified in Persian literature of post-Islam-occupation Iran, in these mystic traditions a vision into the spirit world is not achieved due to a neurochemical intervention but to come by divine grace or as a reward of saintliness, or meditation in stillness. In contrast, ancient Zoroastrian priests, including Zarathustra, gained their omniscient wisdom and knowledge of mēnôg existence before death through drinking an inebriating botanical liquid extract called hôm (haoma).

There have been several speculations about the botanical identity of haoma, or its Vedic version soma to be Amanita Muscaria, Ephedra, Black Henbane and vine, Psilocybe Stropharia Cubensis, Bang (cannabis Indica), and Peganum Harmala (wild rue). Among these candidates, the only one that mysteriously has secured its place in the house of every Iranian, including today’s population with 98% non-Zoroastrian, is Peganum Harmala! Known as Espand (اسپند ) in Farsi, they burn the dry brown seeds of the wild rue for its purifying smoke and earthy scent to avert the devil’s eyes and keep negative energies away from their day to day lives, barely knowing that the seeds contain strong psychoactive compositions. Like the Amazonian shamanic vine, Ayahuasca’s main component yagé (banisteriopsis caapi), Peganum harmala is a rich source of psychoactive beta-carboline alkaloids, harmine, and harmaline. In their book Haoma and Harmaline, David Flattery and Martin Schwartz conclude that Peganum Harmala was the original intoxicant plant represented in the Iranian religious tradition as haoma.

This presentation will review the most explicit and detailed Iranian account of psychedelic intoxication for religious purposes, the journey of Arda Viraz (Ardā Wirāz Nāmag) to have a vision of fate of the souls after death. Astoundingly, in Arda Viraz’s story, the psychedelic journey preparation protocols (set, setting, and dose) seem to be accounted for him to safely transition to an outwardly sleep dreamlike state and targeted visions to see the condition of the righteous and unrighteous in the other world. Through investigating the quality of the state of his mind and journey versus the neuropharmacology of different plants on the body, we will try to re-examine the botanical nature of the Zoroastrians’ haoma.