For the twenty-first Points Interview, we’re venturing down the road less traveled. Today’s installment features Chris Bennett’s Cannabis and the Soma Solution (Trine Day, 2010). In the very first line of the book, Chris makes a sensible observation: “Generally, when discussing the role of cannabis in history, most people’s minds go back to the early Sixties, or at most the reefer madness of the Jazz age…” (p. 1). Cannabis and the Soma Solution takes the story back–way back, and we’re grateful to Chris for taking some time to discuss the book (you can see more of what he’s been up to here).
Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.
In the minds of most people, our relationship with “marijuana” or cannabis as it is properly known, only goes back to the Hippy era of the 60s where it fueled a generation of free love seekers and anti-war protesters, but as Cannabis and the Soma Solution explains there is a seemingly archaic co-evolutionary relationship mankind has had with cannabis, to the extent that it is thought by some researchers to be humanity’s oldest agricultural crop. As this book documents, one of the most profound areas of influence in this relationship can be found in the ‘religious’ life of man, and where ever cannabis traveled in the ancient world, people seem to have recognized it as a gift from the gods, and utilized it as a shamanic plant that provided a clear form of religious inspiration that inspired poets and prophets a like whether it was burned in Mesopotamian Temples, or consumed in sacred beverages in India and Persia. In regards to the latter, Both the Indian Vedic texts, and their Persian counterpart, the Avesta, both of which derived from an identical earlier more ancient tradition, refer to a sacred beverage, known as Soma in India and Haoma in Persia, which inspired both their gods and the texts authors, and the ingredients of this liquid sacrament has been a subject of scholarly debate for over a century. The amanita muscaria, or fly agaric mushroom, as suggested by the mycologist R. Gordon Wasson has been generally regarded as its source, but as I document through the latest archaeological evidence and a thorough examination of the texts regarding Soma/Haoma this no longer can be considered the case, and cannabis is by far the most likely candidate. Although this use of cannabis has for the most part, been lost in the shadows of time, the influences from ancient psychonauts who partook of it, can still be felt today, in a number of still existing religious traditions, as a study of their texts and history provided in Cannabis and the Soma Solution fully explains.
What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
Marijuana is by far the most popular illegal ‘drug’ in our modern world, and its use as a valuable medicine, along with the debate about Legalization vs. continued prohibition and the failed ‘War on Drugs’ is the subject of countless news headlines, but the origins of cannabis and its relationship with Man, is little understood. Any student of drug history will find in Cannabis and the Soma Solution, the most complete examination of the role and potential role of marijuana in the ancient world, unparalleled in any other publication to date. Filled with archaic references from ancient rare texts, and exquisite art, this book weaves a whole new history for the fiber/drug plant that will be sure to be a revelation for even the most cynical of minds.
Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?
As someone who himself has had a profound “religious” experience through the use of marijuana, as explained in the books appendix, researching this book, along with the other books I have written on this same subject, Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion, and Sex, Drugs, violence and the Bible has left me believing in that life changing event, more than when I initially had it. Although I have tried to write the book from an anthropological perspective, I can’t help but see vindication for my own revelation in the wealth of evidence regarding cannabis’ use for this identical sort of experience throughout the history of man and around the world. Although, as the author, I am obviously biased, it is my belief that the material contained herein regarding the role and influence of cannabis in the origins of many still existing world religions, is as much a threat to fundamental religion itself, as Darwin’s theory of evolution was to the myths of Genesis, in that it documents the psychoactive plant based shamanism from which theses religious texts themselves were derived, something that has been deemed sorcery or witchcraft by many of the more fundamental or orthodox members of these faiths.
Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone from Cannabis and the Soma Solution are you most curious to see turned over soon?
New archaeological finds are always hoped for, but I suppose the thing I am most curious about, is the academic reaction to this material in both the fields of anthropology and religious history.
BONUS QUESTION: In a Ken Burns film version of this book, who should provide the narration?
I would choose Morgan Freeman, for both his rich and deep voice, and for the fact that when questioned on whether he used drugs by the UK newspaper the Guardian, he said he had given up hard drugs like cocaine, but when queried further about Marijuana, he responded with comments that cannabis was the “burning bush of Moses” and “God’s own weed”, so clearly he would appreciate the subject matter.
Joe Spillane is Professor of History at the University of Florida. He has authored Cocaine: From Medical Marvel to Modern Menace in the United States (Johns Hopkins Press, 2000) and co-edited Federal Drug Control: The Evolution of Policy and Practice (Haworth Press, 2004). More recently, he authored Coxsackie: The Life and Death of Prison Reform (Johns Hopkins Press, 2014). His current drug-related research agenda includes: the history and development of drug abuse liability assessment; reflections on the nature of drug epidemics; and examinations of drug war “harms” in historical context.
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