Introducción del libro
In the second millennium before our Christian era a people who called themselves 'Aryans' swept down from the Northwest into what is now Afghanistan and the Valley of the Indus. They were a warrior people, fighting with horse-drawn chariots; a grain-growing people; a people for whom animal breeding, especially catde, was of primary importance; finally, a people whose language was Indo-European, the Vedic tongue, the parent of classical Sanskrit, a collateral ancestor of our European languages. They were also heirs to a tribal religion, with an hereditary priesthood, elaborate and sometimes bizarre rituals and sacrifices, a pantheon with a full complement of gods and other supernatural spirits, and a mythology rich with the doings of these deities. Indra, mighty with his thunderbolt, was their chief god, and Agni, the god of fire, also evoked conspicuous homage. There were other gods too numerous to mention here.
Unique among these other gods was Soma. Soma was at the same time a god, a plant, and the juice of that plant. So far as we know now, Soma is the only plant that man has ever deified. (The Mexican Indians seem to regard the hallucinogenic plants, whether mushrooms, peyotl, or morning glories, as mediators with god, not as a god. The Nahua Aztecs and other groups speaking the same tongue: called the musrooms teo-nanácatl, 'god's flesh', but the mushrooms do not figure in their pantheon.) In the course of the Soma sacrifice the juice was pounded out with stones on resounding planks and was drunk by the officiating priests. Soma - the three Somas - inspired hymns vibrant with ecstasy, composed over centuries by priests who lived in centers remote from each other. In the end, at an early period in the first millennium before Christ, these hymns were gathered together, and the canon of that text has come down to us intact. Compared with ours, the Vedic civilization was simple, but their verses - the figures of speech with which they embellished their thoughts and feelings, their play with the meanings and sounds of words, the rules of their prosody - were sometimes subtle and sophisticated. Some of the hymns are of so exalted, even delirious, a· tenor that the modern reader is led to exclaim: «This surely was composed under the influence of a divine inebriant'. It takes little perception to sense the difference in tone between the awe-inspired hymns to Soma and the rowdy drinking songs of the West prompted by alcohol.
In the hierarchy of Vedic gods certain others took precedence over Soma, but since Soma was a tangible, visible thing, its inebriating juice to be ingested by the human organism in the course of the ritual, a god come down and manifesting himself to the Aryans, Soma played a singular role in the Vedic pantheon. The poets never tire of stressing Soma' S sensuous appeal. In appearance it was brilliant, reminding them of the Sun, of Fire, of the rays of the Sun, of the round bowl of the heavenly firmament, 'the back of the sky'. The dried plants were first freshened with water. They were then macerated with stone pestles, and the tawny yellow juice as it carne coursing through the conduits of the press was compared, in the hyperbole of the day, with thunder.' The priests, after imbibing the juice, seem to have known, for the nonce, the ecstasy of existence in the World of the Immortals. The Divine Element was not just a symbol of a spiritual truth as in the Christian communion: Soma was a miraculous drink that spoke for itself.