SOMA AND EUROPEAN ALCHEMY
Knowledge of the alchemical procedures found in the Rg Vedic soma ceremony have been incorporated directly into European alchemical treatises, which accounts for many of the similarities found in Indian religion and European alchemy. Many of the different routes by which Indian cosmological ideas were passed on to Greek, Jewish, and Islamic philosophers have been discussed in chapter 6. These philosophers in turn influenced the writers of European alchemical texts. Before proceeding to discussions of European elixir theories, the philosophers’ stone, and the alchemical structure of the soma ceremony, let us examine, in more detail, the symbols of the inverted tree and the seven‑pointed star body.
SOMA AND INVERTED‑TREE COSMOLOGY IN WESTERN MYSTICAL TRADITIONS
The symbol of the cosmic tree in both its upright and inverted forms is clearly found in the Rg Veda. Both forms of the cosmic tree are used as the basic formulation of the cosmogony and cosmology of the soma sacrifice. The inverted tree appears to be of Indo‑Aryan and Harappan origin and has no other antecedents. The Indus Valley (Harappan) and the Indo‑Aryan cultures developed in close connection with each other before the composition of the Rg Vedic hymns. The cosmic tree in its upright and inverted forms is found on Indus Valley seals as well as in the Rg Veda, and some of the seal impressions indicate that the religious beliefs of the Indus Valley culture are similar to those of the soma ceremony. The cosmic tree in both traditions was the fig tree. According to Simo Parpola, “The inverted tree is not derived from the Assyrian tree: its visualization as the fig tree [in the Rg Veda] links it with the Harappan sacred tree motif . . .,” which suggests that the inverted tree derives from a combination of Indo‑Aryan and Harappan beliefs.(1)
In the soma ceremony there are clear indications that the heavenly world, beyond our cosmos and from which soma or light originates, is inverted with respect to the manifest world of creation. This concept of the two mirrored worlds merging within the heart of the priest is a basic ritual component of the oldest books of the Rg Veda, and the foundation of the soma ceremony.
It appears that the cosmic tree had already been formulated into a divine ritual of the soma ceremony before the Indo‑Aryans (Hurrian/Mitanni) entered northern Syria before 2000 B.C.E. The Indo‑Aryans had already unified both the concept of the cosmic tree and cosmic pillar as well as the older cosmology of the Pole Star with the later solar cosmology. These ideas are well documented in the Rg Veda in the union of Mitra (sun/day) with Varuna (Pole Star/night), forming the composite deity Indra, who personifies the cosmic pillar/tree of light that unites the two. This unification is accomplished through the twin Asvins’ ritual union of the sun (day) and moon (night) lotus plants that induce an entheogenic experience of luminous immortality.(2) Because of this unification, the early ritualized soma ceremony used a tree trunk with all its limbs removed, which made it look like a cosmic pillar. Because the soma ritual was designed to incorporate both the upright and inverted conceptions of the cosmic tree, no limbs could remain along its trunk; these would be superimposed during the ritual. The prominent cosmological features within later Assyrian religion are derived from the older Mitanni concept of the soma ceremony and the uniting of the cosmic pillar and cosmic tree motifs in both their upright and inverted forms. The early seal impressions of Mitanni influence show limbs superimposed upon the cosmic pillar. The Rg Vedic cosmic tree has six branches arranged in pairs along its trunk, with the trunk as the seventh branch. These seven branches correspond to the seven sensory pathways. The tree itself represents the cosmic pillar/tree as the subtle body.
In Rg Vedic cosmology, the unmanifest realm above is represented by an upright tree. The manifest world below is represented by an inverted tree. These can be graphically depicted as two triangles pointing in opposite directions and mirroring each other . This is the probable origin of the graphic representation of two triangles opposed to each other found in European alchemical and magical traditions. The soma priest used fire along the cosmic pillar/tree to invert it, making it an upward‑pointing triangle . This initiated a reunification of the manifest and unmanifest worlds. The fire (Agni) is said in the Rg Veda to be born directly from the entheogenic lotus (puskara) that induces the inner fire in the heart. When the two triangles representing the manifest and the unmanifest worlds merge in the heart as explained in the Rg Vedic soma ceremony, the formation of the six‑pointed star body of light results .Fire reverses the inverted tree of manifestation by uniting the manifest with the unmanifest, forming a union of opposites. At this stage celestial soma merges with terrestrial Agni and lights up the solar heart. The six-pointed star body is really a seven‑pointed star body. Along the trunk there are three sets of pairs of limbs, which equal six points. The central pillar is itself the seventh point of the seven‑pointed star body. The luminous solar body of light emerges from the primal waters of creation in the heart‑ocean. This inner star body formed by the union of opposites is found at the basis of many Western mystical traditions including magic, Gnosticism, Kabbalah, alchemy, Hermetic traditions, and the works of Jacob Boehme, Robert Fludd, and John Dee.
The Indo‑Aryan Mitanni passed on the cosmological idea of inversion to the Assyrians, who also developed a concept of the highest heaven and the material universe as being reflections of each other. We see this in the case of the Assyrian sun god, Assur, who emanated heaven as his primary manifestation to mirror his existence to the world .(3) The dramatic change in the presentation of the cosmic tree and pillar that the Mitanni symbolism introduced shows new cosmological ideas presented in Assyrian texts that are of probable Mitanni and Indo‑European origin. This influence extended to all the countries of western Asia, the Near East, the Middle East, Crete, and Egypt.
In Egypt we find the concept of an inverted afterlife, where the kingdom of the dead was upside down in relation to that of the living.(4) This concept is the same as in the Rg Vedic soma ceremony: If the eye is not united to the sun, which begins the union of the unmanifest formless light with the manifest form of matter within the heart, then after death the deceased are plunged into primeval darkness and are unable to see the rays of the sun. Without this union of the manifest and unmanifest, the dead are placed in an inverted, dark world, unable to perceive the world of light because it is inverse to them. This conception is derived from Indo‑Aryan cosmology as found in the Rg Vedic soma ceremony. The most recent archaeological findings at Hierakonpolis have shown that the founders of Egyptian civilization originated in Iran, which was part of a larger group of connnected civilizations that extended from the Persian Gulf to the Indus River in India.(5) The source of the inverted‑tree cosmology is found in the Rg Veda and is directly associated with soma and the soma ceremony, from which Indian religions derive the functional nature of the inverted cosmic tree. Here we are looking at the probable source of all the later mystical traditions that use the inverted cosmic‑tree motif, including European alchemy.
Then inverted cosmic tree represents the manifestation of the physical universe from its seed source in the sun or heaven, located at the cosmic center. The sun is located in the womb from which the material universe is downwardly created, like a human baby born headfirst. The subtle ascension body of light, as the luminous heart soul, is inverted to its physical body. This is why in kabbalistic texts we find illustrations of the flaming or glowing upward‑pointing spiritual heart of light inverted to its physical counterpart. When the person begins the process of return to the origin,, he or she does not use the physical body, but the subtle body. In Indian yoga, the subtle body of light is inverted in relation to the physical body, and the subtle body of light of the cosmos is inverted in relation to its material forms. As mentioned in numerous Hindu yoga and tantric texts and explained correctly by Alain Danielou, “Like the relation of the chrysalis to the butterfly, so the subtle body is inverted in regard to the gross body.”(6) The subtle body remains inverted to the physical body until Agni as fire (kundalini) reverses it. This whole process originated in the soma ceremony of the Rg Veda, in which an entheogenic herbal drink helped to induce this luminous reversal.
The inversion also represents the soteriological path back to divinity and out of the confinement of matter. Inversion is also represented in the withdrawal of the senses, a reversal of their normal outgoing function. We shall see later on, however, that the withdrawal of the senses and their re‑projection paradoxically allow one to live in the physical cosmos of matter and still be united with God or essential nature.
The concept of the Indo‑Aryan inverted tree is found among Lapp shamans, Islam, the Kabbalah, various European alchemical texts, and in the writings and illustrations of Robert Fludd, Jacob Boehme, and John Dee. The inverted tree is found even in Plato’s Timaeus: “That part (soul) which we say dwells in the summit of our body and lifts us from earth towards our celestial affinity, like a plant whose roots are not in earth, but in the heavens.”(7) It is this inverted inner divine power that keeps the physical body upright (Fig. 7).
Indian ideas of soma and the cosmogonic reversible soma tree of the Rg Vedic soma ceremony had a significant impact upon the fundamental cosmology at the heart of Western esotericism. That Islam would incorporate the inverted‑tree motif and other religious and philosophical texts shows the very high regard and respect it had for Indian religious philosophy. The inverted‑tree cosmology found in the Rg and Atharva Vedas was incorporated into the later Indian literature of the Upanisads and from there was probably borrowed by Islam.
The Jewish Kabbalists read the Arabic works and used the concept of the inverted tree in their religious speculations. They also wrote alchemical works and incorporated the inverted tree as a major cosmogonic symbol directly related to the elixir as the philosophers’ stone. It is also known from such texts as the Shoshan Yesod Olam that Kabbalists used entheogenic plants to induce visionary ecstatic states as in the soma ceremony.(8) The trunk of the cosmic tree was viewed in the same sense in Judaism as in the Rg Veda, that is, as a luminous pneumatic pillar that houses both God and one’s soul as a spark of God. In Genesis (28:17‑22) we find the Indo‑Iranian conception of the cosmic pillar as the source and abode of God. “Jacob set up a pillar that was the house of God.” Jacob remarks that the pillar is not only the “abode of God but the gateway to heaven.” In kabbalistic books this pillar is associated with the primordial man of light as Anthropos, which is called Adam Kadmon and by which one performs miracles and ascends out of the body.(9) In kabbalistic texts such as the Zohar and Bahir we also find the inverted‑tree cosmology and cosmogony.(10) The pillar‑trunk of the inverted tree in both the Zohar and Bahir represents an internal experience like that found in the soma ceremony. This trunk is a luminous pneumatic pillar/tree that arises from the solar heart in both the microcosm (man) and the macrocosm (universe). The common pillar‑trunk represents both the upright and inverted trees.(11) Another Indian belief commonly found in both the Kabbalah and in Hasidism that is associated with the inverted tree, by which souls descend to the earth, is the notion of reincarnation (gilgul).(12) In the Bahir there is a direct mention of the trunk of the cosmic tree as a pillar that connects heaven to earth. It is by this pneumatic pillar that the enlightened, righteous, or perfected man (Anthropos) ascends to heaven. Scholem states that this kabbalistic idea is originally of Iranian origin. It would ultimately be derived from the haoma/soma ceremonies.(13) This idea probably came from either Arabic sources or directly from Indian Upanisadic sources that date back to around 900 B.C.E. It could also have come partly from Syrian and Assyrian sources that are ultimately derived from Indo‑European Hurrian/Mitanni symbolism and cosmology, which the Mitanni introduced into northern Syria. The most likely sources, however, are the Arabic and Indian sources. Kabbalists probably would not have obtained these ideas directly from the Rg Veda, even though its hymns are their ultimate source.
The Jewish Kabbalists were in contact with various Indian writings, as we can see from reading their texts. Exactly which Indian writings is not completely clear, but it can be assumed that it was the Upanisads, which had been translated into Arabic, and maybe parts of other Hindu ritual texts. Another possibility is the Atharva Veda, which had been partly translated into Arabic with other Indian medical writings. Still another important source would have been Indians in the West who knew a great deal about yoga, as well as Indian ideas that passed to Jewish scholars through Sufism. In addition, the empire of the Medes, comprised of Iranians and Indo-Aryans, had a great influence upon Israel’s religion when the former conquered Mesopotamia around 600‑550 B.C.E., setting the Israelites free from Assyrian captivity. As a by‑product of their release, Israel became closely aligned with the Medean‑Persian empire and absorbed many Indo‑Iranian doctrines into Judaism. These included certain cosmological ideas, fire worship, dualism (God/devil, future life as heaven and hell), the concept of angels, resurrection, and so on.(14)
An example of Indian yogic influence upon a Jewish kabbalistic writer appears in the writings of Abraham Abulafia, who was born in 1240 C.E. and founded what is called the ecstatic Kabbalah. Abulafia taught various breathing techniques combined with repetitions of divine names that have been described here as the logos doctrines. His techniques were based on Indian prototypes and show similarities with those of the soma ceremony. These techniques use sounds (logoi) to vibrate (in Sanskrit, vipra) and heat up (in Sanskrit, tapas) the spiritual heart area to form an upward‑moving fiery pillar or tree of light. This heating is not exactly equivalent to actual heat; instead, it is a deep, ecstatic love felt in the spiritual heart, which feels like a warming inside. This heating automatically prepares the heart for the downwardly emanated influx of God as divine light or soma.(15)
In many European alchemical texts we find the inverted cosmic tree motif. One of the many paradoxical qualities of the so‑called, arbor philosophica is that it is said to grow upside down. Hence, it is called the arbor inversa, the inverted tree. (16) Contained within theMirror of Alchimy by Roger Bacon is a Hebrew alchemical text translated into English in 1597 on the nature of the philosophers’ stone and its birth. It says,
Take it therefore and work it as the Philosopher has told you in his book, when he named it after this manner. Take a Stone which is not a Stone, that is neither a Stone nor of the nature of a Stone. It is a Stone whose mineral is generated in the summit of the mountains: and here by mountains, the Philosopher understandeth living creatures, whereupon he said. Son, go to the mountains of India, and to its caves, & pull out thence precious stones which will melt in the water when they are put into it. And this water is that which is taken from other mountains and hollow places. They are stones Son, and they are not stones, but we call them so for a similarity which they have to stones. And you must know, that the roots of their minerals are in the air, and their tops in the earth. (17)
This description of the stone that is not a stone actually refers to the philosophers’ stone as an Indian plant. In this text the philosophers’ stone is found in the mountain caves of India. This comes from the Rg Vedic conceptions that the philosophers’ stone as soma is found upon the summit of the cosmic mountain. It is found in the cave of the heart where the cosmic mountain is located.
Other European alchemical treatises also speak of the inverted tree:
It has the roots of its minerals above in the air and its branches below in the earth. Also in the Gloria Mundi, it is mentioned that the philosophers have said that the root of its minerals is in the air and its head in the earth. George Ripley describes the tree with its roots in the air and, elsewhere, as being rooted in the glorified earth, in the earth of paradise or in the future world.(18)
In European alchemical texts the movement of the luminous elixir through the cosmic tree as its sap that flows to all creation is the same as soma in the ancient Rg Vedic soma ceremony. The luminous fluid created by the nuptial union of opposites runs through the veins of the philosophical tree. This cosmic sap is of a subtle nature, and it saturates the bodies of the sun and moon while effecting their total fusion. It is described as an oily water, just as soma is sometimes described in the Rg Veda. It is the philosophical stone as a plant from which the branches of the luminous philosophical tree
multiply into infinity.(19) The philosophers’ tree shares with the stone
the qualities of autonomy and universality (Fig. 8).
Commenting on the work of the Arabic alchemist known as Senior, the alchemical text Consilium Coniugii says,
Thus the stone is perfected of and in itself. For it is the tree whose branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits come from it and through it and
for it, and it is itself whole or the whole and nothing else. Another
alchemical author says: Of itself, from, in, and through itself is made
and perfected the stone of the wise. For it is one thing only: like a tree
h (says Senior), whose roots, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, and
fruit are of it and through it and from it and on it, and all come from one seed. It is itself everything, and nothing else makes it.(20)
The European alchemist Gerhard Dorn summarizes the alchemists’ ideas of their philosophical tree in the following manner: “On account of the likeness alone, and not substance, the philosophers compare their material to a golden tree with seven branches, thinking that it encloses in its seed the seven metals, and that these are hidden in it, for which reason they call it a living thing.”(21)
We find the inverted‑tree cosmology and the idea that the world of light is inverse to the material world in the cosmological and alchemical philosophy of the Hermeticist Robert Fludd (1574‑1637), who based his entire cosmology unwittingly on the ancient Rg Vedic soma ceremony. He borrowed his cosmological system from various Christian, Gnostic, Neoplatonic, Hermetic, alchemical, and kabbalistic sources, which in turn had borrowed their systems from the Greeks or Arabs, who had borrowed them from India. William Huffman has clearly stated Fludd’s basic cosmology, which Fludd illustrated in various diagrams, in his recent biography.
In true Neoplatonic fashion, the goal is to ascend from the physical world, through contemplation, to the highest, to climb from the quadripart world to that of unity in God. The inner vision can be directed toward that goal through external images, to reverse as it were the process of creation. Thus the illustrations are far more important than mere aids to understanding the text; they are a vital medium that the imaginative soul uses to connect the Intellect with the Sensitive Soul, in Fluddean Neoplatonic terms. The whole structure is a completely consistent scheme that combines Neoplatonic Hermeticism, Paracelsian alchemy, Genesis, and the Cabala into his Mosaicall Philosophy. (22)
Most of Fludd’s works are in Latin. But one major book, his Mosaicall Philosophy, is in English. Several other texts have been translated into English. There have also been several detailed English studies of his entire corpus. Fludd had detailed illustrations showing his cosmological system made for most of his books. From a careful observation of his cosmological diagrams we can clearly see correspondences with Indian cosmology. Some similarities include the inverted kabbalistic tree as the downward spiral of creation (Fig. 9a). The created universe of matter is shown as a mirror image of heaven. In his Utriusque cosmi historia, Fludd says that the cosmological structure of the universe is like upward and downward triangles (upright and inverted trees) that are mirrored through the medium of the “watery world”(23) (Fig. 9b). This image is identical to that in the Rg Veda, in which the primal waters that separate the heavenly world of light above from the manifested world of matter below act as a mirror, the medium of the cosmic waters in which the two worlds are inverted. We see the union of the world of light with dark matter as a union of opposites that creates the solar heart. Fludd shows the embryonic creation of the sun. Fludd’s system contains the central sun as the solar heart, formed from two inverted triangles (Fig 9c). The seven cakras are shown aligned with the creation (Fig. 9d).
The cosmogonic idea of physical creation inverted with respect to heaven also appears in the work of Jacob Boehme (1575‑1624).(24) In Boehme’s work we find that the cosmic tree of the soul grows up from the heart of man and bears the fruit of immortality, just as the soma tree grows from the heart and gives immortality in the soma ceremony. As this tree grows upward, it destroys the world tree of matter and illusion. The central sun is the heart in Boehme’s system as well. The concept of the manifest world of creation and the heaven of light being in inverse relation to each other is seen in many of the drawings of Johann Gichtel and Dionysius Andreas Freher, both pupils of Boehme’s writings. Their diagrams also show the union of the manifest with the unmanifest as the union of opposites or opposing triangles. The union takes place in the heart. As discussed previously the Rg Vedic Purusa‑Sukta or primal man of light and cosmic pillar/tree is symbolically hermaphroditic, containing the restoration of all opposites in a perfect unity of being. In Boehme’s mystical system, the androgyny or union of opposites as Christ is restored to perfection in the same fashion as in the soma ceremony and involves the same elements. The process takes place in the heart through devotional ecstasy and involves pneuma (divine air‑spirit), Agni (fire), and Soma (as light and spiritual water or ambrosia). Boehme says,
Christ cannot become manifest in man . . . [unless the soul feeds] upon the water‑fountain, then the spirit of love . . . becomes fiery, and lays hold of the fire‑root . . . [then] the soulish centre from the fire‑nature is changed into fire‑love and in this love‑fire Christ becomes manifest and is born in the soul …. Then from the soul’s fire the divine air‑spirit proceeds from fire and light and brings its spiritual water out of itself, out of the light. The water becomes essential; and the power of the light eats thereof, and in the love‑desire brings itself into a holy being . . . and this being is the true temple . . . yea (it is) God in his own revelation. (25)
Boehme has here explained an authentic mystical experience interpreted through alchemical terminology. It is clearly the same as the devotional use of fire, pneuma (prana), and soma in the generation by reunification of the manifest and unmanifest as Anthropos in the heart during the soma ceremony.
The spiritual water mentioned by Boehme is the same as soma and is the water of life. Speaking of the “water of life,” Boehme says, “This water subsists throughout all eternity. It is the water of life which penetrates even death …. It is also in the body of man, and when he thirsts for that water and drinks of it, then the light of life is lit in him. “(26)
In Boehme’s mystical revelation, a subtle pneumatic body of light is formed in the heart, like a pillar of light, which one uses as one’s heavenly attire .(27) This is also exactly like the soma tree or pillar of light produced by the entheogenic soma drink. This light form is even more subtle than the star body it projects. The star body is used for miracles and magical operations while still in the physical body. These ideas were derived by Boehme from his readings of Jewish, Latin, and German alchemical texts, along with his own mystical experiences. His sources were ultimately derived from the ancient soma ceremony, but they probably received the information from the later Upanisadic sources.
John Dee (1527‑1608), magician, mathematician, alchemist, and Kabbalist, used the same sources in constructing his cosmology and in developing his ideas about magic. In Dee’s Monas hieroglyphica we find seven stages in the cosmological work. He shows the celestial philosophers’ egg as containing all creation within it. It is depicted as a downward‑pointing egg shape. This suggests the inverted‑tree cosmology related to the cosmogonic egg (Fig. 10). He also says that the union of opposites of the higher world of light and dark matter is the source of magic. We have already shown the correspondences between these ideas and the Rg Vedic soma ceremony. The most important influences upon Dee’s work are revealed in his thoughts on magic and magical practices. As discussed already, earlier Indo-Iranian sacrificial rituals of haoma/soma constituted one of the very oldest systemized forms of solar/stellar pneumatic magic ever devised. We can trace its most advanced form back to the Indo‑Aryan soma sacrifices of the Rg Veda, which had a profound impact upon Neoplatonic magic and theurgy. We also know that Dee’s magical thought was mainly influenced by the Islamic philosopher Al‑Kindi, who, conversely, was mainly influenced by Neoplatonism. Al-Kindi’s book on magic, De radiis, had a profound effect upon Dee, who is known to have borrowed De radiis and to have kept it for two years. He obviously studied it deeply, as it remains one of the most important sources for Dee’s ideas. As Clulee remarks, “The similarity between the wording of passages in al‑Kindi and Dee make the dependence of Dee on al‑Kindi unquestionable.”(28)
Fludd, Boehme, and Dee obtained their symbolism from Jewish mystical works, or directly from Arabic, Hermetic, and Neoplatonic texts whose sources were from India. The doctrines of the Indian Rg Veda are thus found in Western kabbalistic, mystical, philosophical, and alchemical treatises, forming an integral part of their practical experiential and cosmological background.
Fludd, Boehme, and Dee could have obtained all their information from kabbalistic and alchemical texts, which already contained Indian influences. But a closer source would have been the book Ein missionsgeschichtlichen Beitragzum Christlichen Dialog mit dem Hinduismus, written by the Jesuit Robert de Nobili (1577‑1656). This book contained a section on the “Theology of the Brahmans.” Nobili was a missionary at Madural and Malabar. His book was published and possibly passed around in manuscript form during Boehme, Fludd, and Dee’s lifetime. Although it is doubtful that Boehme would have encountered it, it may have been told to him or incorporated into other books he could have read. There is little doubt that this book, plus one other, China Illustrata by Athanasius Kircher, published in 1667, had an important impact upon Boehme’s disciple, Gichtel. These two books are the probable sources of Indian ideas on the chakras, which Gichtel incorporated into his mystical system. Fludd’s chakra system was probably also influenced by Nobili’s book. Both Nobili and Kircher’s books contained esoteric information on the cakra system based upon the Rg Vedic Purusa‑Sukta hymn that had been incorporated into various later Upanisads. This old hymn is partly the source of the original India chakra system. In Nobili and Kircher’s works, fourteen centers are located within the primal man as Anthropos, from which the universe is created. Kircher provides an illustration (Fig. l la) in his book that matches up in many places with Gichtel’s chakra system (Fig. l lb), which can be found in his book, Theosophica practica, which was published in 1696 although the illustrations were added only in the 1736 edition. Six of Gichtel’s seven chakras match Kircher’s diagram. These are found between the waist and the top of the head. This also accounts for the inaccuracy of the location of the chakras in Gichtel’s system as compared to authentic Indian texts. Gichtel is thought to have belonged to a secret society of Rosicrucians. He considered this information to be of a secret nature and kept the knowledge hidden for a number of years before publishing it. The subject of his book is mystic regeneration involving the chakras and the elixir vitae or soma.
SOMA, EUROPEAN ELIXIR THEORIES, AND ROGER BACON
In the twelfth century, the translation of Arabic works into European languages began in earnest. There was a medical school at Salerno in southern Italy where translations were prepared and used as early as the eleventh century. The first known translation of an alchemical work from the Arabic was made by Robert of Chester in 1144. By 1200 some half dozen texts had been translated, including the Book on Alums, ascribed to al‑Razi, and the Emerald Tablet. Interest in the subject began to grow, and in the thirteenth century alchemy was seriously discussed and also widely practiced.
While the Jewish Kabbalists were absorbing Indian ideas from Islam, Roger Bacon, the British scientist, was enthusiastically reading Islamic alchemical and scientific treatises. The best minds of the time doubted whether alchemy was a true science. Saint Albert, also known as Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, and Saint Thomas Aquinas all discussed the question of the authenticity of alchemy.(29)
Roger Bacon, who was a practical laboratory worker and a great exponent of the merits of science, discussed the subject of alchemy in many of his books. In his Opus tertium he distinguishes speculative alchemy from the actual knowledge of the properties of bodies, their generation, and their transformations. Bacon believed that by the science of alchemy man could perfect metals better and faster than nature could. He also was one of the first Europeans to learn from Arabic alchemical texts about an “elixir of immortality.” This ancient elixir appears to have been derived from stories of the soma plant. Regarding alchemy Bacon said, “This science is more important than all that have preceded it because it is productive of more advantage. It not only provides money and infinite other things for the State, but teaches the discovery of such things as how to prolong human life as far as nature allows it to be prolonged.”(30) Bacon’s science is in many cases what we would call “occult science.” He shared the common belief of his time that herbs, stones, metals, and other things possess almost miraculous powers. Bacon often quotes from Artephius concerning the prolongation of life by a secret occult elixir. By thorough investigation of such occult virtues Artephius, exclaims Bacon, prolonged his existence to 1,025 years. Bacon also has unusual occult ideas about the power of the sound of words. He closely connects fascination, the power of words, and the human voice. According to Bacon, sacred words are the most appropriate instrument, and almost every miracle since the beginning of the world has been performed by using them. Through their power, bodies are healed, venomous animals put to flight, and other such effects produced.(31)
Roger Bacon was convinced that if one conducted a thorough study of nature by direct observation, and studied the ancient philosophers, one would possess great and miraculous secrets. This all sounds naive and humorous to scientists today, but, in fact, Bacon was not so wrong. His only real problem was not having access to competent teachers and better source material in the original languages.
Roger Bacon wanted to be like Artephius, who wisely studied the forces and secrets of nature, especially the secret of the length of life by the development of a miraculous elixir.(32) Bacon’s Mirror of Alchimy contains, in seven short paragraphs, a manual of alchemical art that teaches how to compose a certain medicine called Elixir, which, when it is projected upon metals or imperfect bodies, makes them perfect at the moment of projection .(33) Bacon had a fascination with the elixir theories he had read about in Arabic sources. In most of his works he mentions longevity and the prolongation of life by these elixirs.
One work translated into English from the Latin was The Cure of Old Age and the Preservation of Youth, published in London in 1683. This work quotes many sources, Arabic, Greek, and Chaldean. In this book Bacon writes of a sacred plant of India that bestows longevity and renewed life. He adds that he has obscured and not fully revealed the nature of this plant because it is so powerful that by its use the vulgar might be able to overthrow the entire world and its divine law, and even affect the nature of the universe itself. He says that he is discussing the elixir of life in “obscure and difficult terms which I judge requisite to the conservation of health, least they should fall into the hands of the unfaithful.”(34) His descriptions are obscure, but apparently he is describing either one elixir with seven components combined together or seven different elixirs of life, one of them being the “sacred plant of India,” which is mentioned as the seventh, and for that reason possibly the most important, elixir. The seven medicines as given by Roger Bacon are, first, that which lies in the bowels of the earth; second, that which lies in the sea; third, that which creeps upon the earth; fourth, that which lives in the air; fifth, that which is like the medicine that comes out of the mineral of the noble animal; sixth, that which comes out of the long‑lived animal; and seventh, “that whose mineral is the plant of India.”(35) This is of course the inverted mineral stone/plant in previous alchemical texts that we have discussed. It grows in India within the cave of the cosmic mountain, which refers to the structure of the soma ceremony and the soma plant.
Although Bacon does not say what the plant of India is, he does say that it “refreshes the nerves and be‑dews them with a thin and subtle moisture, and is good for the brain.” He says it “sharpens the senses, cheers the heart.”” This describes the effects of the “elixir of immortality,” the soma drink prepared by the Asvins. The translator of The Cure of Old Age, Richard Browne, writing several hundred years after Bacon, says in his commentary that Roger Bacon is referring to the plant called Agallochum or Lignum Aloes.(37) Some say it is like a tree with smooth skin rather than bark, that the plant only grows in India, and that there are several types. It is not possible for the translator to have accurately identified this plant from Bacon’s work, and he says so. It is not clear what plant Bacon meant; it is clear only that the plant was to be kept secret. Many of the attributes that Bacon gives the plant could also refer to soma. Cosmologically speaking, soma is the prototypical plant of all Indian healing plants and the cosmic tree of the universe.
It is very possible that Bacon could have heard about a sacred plant of India that bestows immortality, longevity, and healing ability and even could transmute lead into gold. He read extensively in Arabic writings on alchemy and the elixir vitae. Arabic texts would have certainly referred to the cosmic tree and a sacred plant of India that has the power to heal, rejuvenate, and extend longevity. Bacon, mentioning the mineral of the plant of India, indicates that it may be a mythological plant, and one that is generated through magical means, rather than an actual physical plant. This could mean that he was referring to the subtle essence of the plant, which effects a transformation that directs a person back to the essence of being through the development of the internal pneumatic soma plant.
Bacon was not the only one at this time who was fascinated by the sacred elixir plant of India. Others reading about the marvelous elixir were Arnold of Villanova, who wrote, “Our medicine has also power to heal all infirmity and diseases, both of inflammation and debility; it turns an old man into a youth.”(38)
SOMA, THE UNION OF OPPOSITES,
AND THE PHILOSOPHERS’ STONE
In European alchemy, the actual preparation of the elixir vitae involved the union of opposites within the womb of the heated oven, which is the Hermetic vessel or heart‑sun. The symbolism of the union of heaven and earth, sun and moon, and fire and water developed in the soma ceremony was used in alchemical apparatuses such as the altar, throne, and alembic‑womb of creation located within the heart of being. The alchemical substances sulphur and mercury were the same as the fire and water or Agni and Soma of the Rg Vedic soma ceremony. Once the symbolic union of opposites was achieved, not only were healing and longevity attained, but all sorts of paranormal abilities also resulted.
Mercury and sulphur were not identical with the common substances bearing these names; rather, they stood for cosmic properties inherent in man and the universe, symbolizing the dualistic framework of the cosmos, especially when referred to as “philosophical” mercury or sulphur. Salt was the container that held these two principles; it was known mystically as the body of man and was regarded in alchemical literature as the medium for uniting mercury and sulphur.(39) These three together formed the “triune microcosm,” which was the basis of the alchemical cosmology. The union of the two contrary principles (sulphur and mercury) or sun and moon within man’s body (salt) forms the immortal pneumatic or astral body used both in the Indo‑Aryan soma ceremony and in European alchemy. For example, in the Hermetic alchemical text the Emerald Tablet all the elements found in the Rg Veda soma ceremony are present. These elements are the dualistic principles of sun and moon, acted upon by the pneuma to produce the pneumatic fiery golden embryo in the heart. The text says, “Its father is the sun and its mother is the moon. Pneuma is its vital breath . . . these make up the golden embryo.”
Allegorical terms such as sulphur, mercury, and salt as well as numerous other symbols were used to veil profound spiritual secrets. These terms continued to increase until the philosophers’ stone or elixir was credited with every sort of magical power and paranormal ability known. But we should not discredit these claims, and we should point out that this is exactly what soma stood for and accomplished in the Rg Vedic soma ceremony. Some of the soma drinks in the Rg Veda, including the elixir vitae, were prepared from the alchemical union of dual principles. Sulphur and mercury were frequently mentioned as the sun and moon in European alchemical texts and it was their union or coniunctionis that produced the secret “elixir of life.” This can be seen in an illustration (Fig. 12) of Hermes pointing to the union of sun and moon, which produces a water that does not burn but gently heats up and illuminates the heart region during the inducement of an ecstatic state. This same effect was experienced in the soma ceremony through consuming the entheogenic soma drink.
A direct connection between the preparation of the elixir vitae in European alchemy and in the soma ceremony, as the Asvins’ herbal soma drink, can be seen in several European alchemy texts, where the “elixir of life” is said to be prepared directly from the sacred juices of plants that are associated with the symbolic essences of the sun and moon.(40) This is also represented pictorially as sun and moon plants whose sap flows forth through an inverted triangle to produce their equivalents as sulphur and mercury (Fig. 13a). This illustration indicates that the union of the essence or juice of the sun plant, symbolized by sulphur, with the essence or juice of the moon plant, symbolized by mercury, produces the “elixir of life” and inverts the downward‑pointing triangle, thus uniting the manifest and unmanifest worlds. When the sun and moon plants merge their saps in the heart, they induce, according to Basil Valentine in his eleventh and twelfth keys, an internal golden plant that is the same as the luminous Anthropos within the heart, the Hermetic vessel” (Fig. 13b).
The tradition of uniting opposites is a very ancient one that dates back to sacrificial rituals to the gods, which were really magical and alchemical procedures combining herbal admixtures with ritualized stellar, lunar, and solar operations. These rituals were first systemized by the magi or fire‑priests in the fire‑cults of the Indo‑Iranians. They combined their pneumatic fire rituals with the use of entheogenic drinks, and it was the Indo‑Aryans who fully developed their entheogenic drink called soma into the elixir vitae. The oldest such elixir vitae known was the sun and moon lotus drink prepared by the Asvins. It was composed of the saps of night‑blooming Nymphaea, moon plants, mixed with the day‑blooming Nelumbo and Nymphaea, sun plants. Daniel Stolcius in his Viridarium chymicum, published in 1624, illustrates the preparation of this elixir vitae as the herbal juices of the sun and moon plants, which as John Read mentions, fill the holy grail cup with the “elixir of life” (Fig. 13c). This cup rests upon the sign of both mercury # and gold O, symbolizing the golden liquid state of the elixir within the cup of eternity.(42)
There are many different soma drinks and several forms of soma discussed in the Rg Veda. The elixir vitae that we have mentioned is the golden form of soma consumed as the “elixir of immortality.” There is also a white form of soma, which is the celestial soma that is used in the preparation of the elixir vitae. This white soma is alchemically changed during the ceremony to golden soma through the ritual heating and mixing process. This white soma is associated with the white stars and the moon. Symbolically it is the same as mercury in the European alchemical tradition. The white celestial soma’s source, according to the Rg Vedic hymns, is the Pole Star. This white soma is also associated with the serpent‑dragon Vrtra in Rg Vedic cosmogony. Interestingly, we can find what appears to be an almost direct influence from the Indo‑Aryan soma ceremony upon European alchemy in the fact that mercury, also called white water as the “aqua vitae,” has its source also at the Pole Star and is associated directly with the serpent‑dragon, Draco. Draco is symbolic of immortality and regeneration and guards the white mercurial soma elixir. The serpent not only guards the elixir, but is the elixir and annually sheds its skin and rejuvenates itself. In the Rg Veda, the slaying of this dragon by Indra yields this celestial soma juice to mankind.(43) The Kabbalists also viewed the Pole Star as having a pole serpent (Draco), called Teli, upon which the stability of the cosmos depended and which was slain to release the elixir. This elixir was connected with the nodes on the serpent’s body, and these nodes were associated with ecstatic states and mystical union. This is similar to the soma ceremony in which the nodes on Vrtra’s serpent body contain the soma. The origin of this idea among the Hebrews is IndoIranian, as is shown by their use of the Persian term juz’har (node) for Teli.(44)
As a further consequence of their fundamental belief in the unity of all things, the alchemists came to regard the medicine of the metals as the medicine of man. The object of alchemy became the preparation of the “Elixir,” “the Heavenly Water,” “the Fiery Medicine,” “the Phoenix,” “the Magistery,” which would bring to perfection all imperfect bodies and confer on one who knew rightly how to use them a long, healthy, and vigorous life. The philosophers’ stone, under such names as the “Elixir of Immortality” or “Grand Elixir,” was depicted as a panacea for all human ills, capable also of restoring youthfulness and prolonging life. The alchemist Ripley made such a claim in the epistle to his Compound of Alchymie: “Then will that Medicine heal all manner Infirmities, And turn all Metals to Sun and Moon most perfectly.”(45)
In Europe several people had claimed to have actually discovered the philosphers’ stone. It is very curious that the stone itself, which we have already shown was also a sacred plant, was still connected directly with India. According to the adept Figuier and others, the alchemists Nicolas Flamel (b. 1330) and his wife Pernelle discovered the philosophers’ stone and achieved perennial youth. They were said afterward to have migrated to India; they were said to have lived there as late as the eighteenth century, more than three hundred years after their presumed deaths! It is interesting flan they migrated to India, which again indicates that the philosophers’ stone had an Indian connection.
Even the longevity of the patriarchs was attributed to their use of the stone. Unless Adam had possessed the knowledge of this great mystery, remarks the author of Gloria Mundi, he would not have been able to prolong his life to the age of three hundred, let alone nine hundred, years.
There are even greater wonders. The stone enables one to understand the language of the various creatures, as the chirping of birds, lowing of beasts, and so on. More remarkable still, this stone is not in any way evil or devilish, but easy, natural, and honest.
There is finally the angelical stone, which is so subtle that it cannot be seen, felt, or weighed; it can only be tasted. It enables one to live a long time without food and gives its possessor the power of conversing with angels by dreams and revelations. The alchemist Elias Ashmole (1617‑92) has said that Hennes, Moses, and Solomon knew of the secret of this stone, and because of this knowledge they were able to work every kind of wonder. (46)
SOMA AND DESCRIPTIONS OF THE PHILOSOPHERS’ STONE
The elixir or philosophers’ stone of the alchemist was called by many names that indicate that the real stone, like soma, has an ontological status related to an alteration of one’s state of being. These names further show the similarity between the philosophers’ stone, or elixir, and soma. The stone was called “Virgin’s Milk,” “Whiteness,” “Adam,” “Our Great Elixir,” “Phoenix,” “Universal Medicine,” “Yolk of the Egg,” “Universal Essence,” and the “Water Stone of the Wise” or “Sophic Hydrolith” for its supposed fluid or mercurial appearance.
Zosimos the Panopolitan stated, “In speaking of the Philosopher’s Stone, receive this stone which is not a stone, a precious thing which has no value, a thing of many shapes which has not shapes, this unknown which is known of all …. The Quintessence is dear and glorious to him who knows it and uses it, vile to him who is ignorant of it; finite and specific for the one, infinite and indeterminate for the other. (47)
The alchemist Eirenaeus Philalethes states in A Brief Guide to the Celestial Ruby that “the philosophers’ stone is called a stone, not because it is like a stone, but only because, by virtue of its fixed nature, it resists the action of fire as successfully as any stone. In species it is gold, more pure than the purest. If we say that its nature is spiritual, it would be no more than the truth; if we describe it as corporeal, the expression would be equally correct.” This type of emphasis was often laid upon the supposed universal occurrence of the stone, and this widespread idea was sometimes advanced as a reason for the cryptic nature of the directions given for its preparation. According to a statement in Gloria Mundi, dated 1526, The Stone is familiar to all men, both young and old, is found in the country, in the village, in the town, in all things created by God; yet it is despised by all. Rich and poor handle it every day. It is cast into the street by servant maids. Children play with it. Yet no one prizes it, though, next to the human soul, it is the most beautiful and the most precious thing upon earth, and has power to pull down kings and princes. Nevertheless, it is esteemed the vilest and meanest of earthly things. (48)
These statements about the philosophers’ stone indicate that it had a spiritual and ontological status just like soma. It was it product of’ inward operations that created within a person a glorified body possessed of all sorts of miraculous powers. The origins of such ideas, especially once we have seen that the stone was really a plant, come from a probable knowledge of ancient stories about the soma plant and the alchemical processes that derive from the ancient Indo-Aryan soma ceremony.
ALCHEMY IN THE RG VEDA AND THE SOMA CEREMONY
The origin of the idea of the alchemical elixir that can rejuvenate and heal human beings and sustain the entire cosmos as a living entity has its origin in the Indo‑Iranian sacrificial ritual of the haoma/soma rites. Since these rites are so archaic, they are the probable source of the elixir ideas in Chinese, Greco‑Egyptian, Islamic, and European alchemy. In addition, the alchemical concept of spiritual creation and transmutation was also developed within the soma ceremony of the Rg Veda.
The earliest forms of rejuvenation in India involve the knowledge of soma, the elixir of life, its source and function in creation, and its activation by fire. These earliest systematized methods of alchemical rejuvenation, using the elixir “soma” or in the rejuvenation of a new body or in the healing of disease, occur primarily in the hymns of the Rg Veda and the Atharva Veda. Many of these early methods involve either generating life energy within or pulling life energy into one’s body from a macroanthropic process using an entheogenic drink. The rites involve the generation of life energy in the body, bringing it from the source of creation at the cosmic center of the universe, which is centered in man’s being at the level of the heart. The soma or elixir is originally located in a place, referred to in the Rg Veda as the third heaven, that is situated interdimensionally and microcosmically within the priest’s heart/mind. It is also said to be above or beyond the created matter of the stars of the universe. The soma is actually outside the created cosmos, at the cosmic center, within the depths of the watery matrix of creation and being. It is associated with the light energy contained within atoms and the energy that binds together atoms to form molecules of matter. It is associated with the luminous radiant energy of our sun and the stars. It is the foundational energy source from which all other energies and matter are derived. Soma is an energetic luminous fluid that forms a subtle energy body located invisibly inside the physical body, yet extending outside or traveling outside of it. In addition, it is the underlying cause or basis of all physical creation within the creation, as well as that which allows all other space‑time dimensions or other worlds to exist. These other worlds are connected to our world by a form of hypercosmic light fluid flowing through the continuum or cosmic pillar.
The entire process of the soma ceremony brings the autonomic processes of the body under conscious control. Small peptide molecules generated within the matrix can pass the blood‑brain barrier and be directed to specific sites in the body for healing, rejuvenation, and prolonged life. Some adepts in India suggest that the alchemical elixir or soma of the soma ceremony, when internalized, can be secreted directly from the brain into the bloodstream, keeping the physical body alive even when it is in a state of suspended animation for six months or longer without food, drink, and excretion of waste products. In this state, the body has an extremely low metabolism and a heart rate that is undetectable; there is absolutely no body consciousness and no pain is felt, even if the body is partly eaten by wild animals in the jungle. There is no pain until consciousness is reintroduced into the physical body.
The above example is only one of the many functions of soma and the soma ceremony. It is these types of practices that allow for various control of autonomic processes for healing, rejuvenation, and longevity. It should be noted that gaining control over bodily processes is accomplished not directly through the brain, but through the subconscious mind associated with special states of consciousness. One’s essence is approached and identified with again through the true intentions of the heart and spiritual praxis in the heart of being. This process positions one’s awareness behind the accumulated impressions of the senses.
The expansion and power of the heart is the greatest force in the universe, and it is fundamental to alchemy. It is a special form of love and is fundamental to our essential nature and consciousness, and it is what controls creation and creative processes. In the soma ceremony the heart is the control point of the forces of nature.
The knowledge of the cosmic tree/pillar as the white haoma/soma, and the “elixir of immortality,” constitute an ancient system of interior alchemical practice from the oldest books of the Rg Veda. If any parts or hymns of the soma ceremony were written before the IndoIranians split apart, which appears to be the case, then this knowledge must go back much further. As noted previously, the mythological plant of the Iranian Avesta called the White Hom or haoma is the same as the soma of the Rg Veda. In the Rg Veda the secrets of the soma plant, even though veiled in cryptic language, are fully explained. In the Iranian texts this knowledge about haoma is never fully revealed. The Indo‑Iranian notion of the cosmic tree/pillar of the universe called the luminous haoma/soma is the foundation of their belief system and must be very ancient. Indeed, the date of the haoma/soma ceremonies could easily go back to 4000‑3000 B.C.E., and current research presents evidence for pushing the date back even further. The Indus culture that appears to have conducted rituals very similar to the soma ceremony has also been shown to be older by the recent discovery of a full‑blown writing system already developed by 3500‑3300 B.C.E.(49) The Rg Veda contains ten books called mandalas. From internal evidence and linguistic analysis it can be shown that books two through seven form the oldest core of hymns. Next are books eight and nine. The latest books are one and ten. Some of the information in the books has not been accurately dated. There is internal astronomical evidence in some hymns that some claim date them to around 7000‑6500 B.C.E.(50) One important point should be emphasized: Anyone who has read through the thousands of ‘verses of all the books of the Rg Veda will quickly realize that they form one cohesive, orderly succession of ideas. The later books, one and ten, only further explain the ideas that are presented in the oldest core books. The later books present not new ideas but simply a representation of the original cosmology as given in the oldest books. Therefore, one is justified in saying that soma, discussed in the core books of the Rg Veda, is part of an ancient system of belief.
The ancient soma ritual, as noted, is probably the oldest form of alchemy in the world. The special knowledge of the ritual is used to effect mystical union and healing in the Rg Veda, and it formed the foundation of many of the rejuvenative and healing portions of the Atharva Veda. These early systems form the basis of the later alchemical, or rasayana, and Ayurvedic schools of India, as well as other secret healing, longevity, and rejuvenative techniques. Most later techniques of spiritual development in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism are originally derived from parts of the Rg Vedic version of the soma ceremony. Both Indian and Tibetan Buddhist schools base their most profound secret inner teachings upon parts of the Rg Vedic soma ceremony. Although it is not widely known Padmasambhava represented a continuation of an ancient miracle tradition associated with the Indo‑Iranian magi. In India this tradition derived from the use of the soma drinks and the spiritual basis of the internalized ritual. It is almost certain that Padmasambhava used entheogens in his practices and that he was directly connected with the secret entheogenic use of lotus plants, from which his name (padma is Sanskrit for lotus) is derived. The most important teachings of early Tantric and Tibetan Buddhism, as defined in the texts written by Padmasambhava and recently found within the rNyingma rgyud‑’bum, describes the inner generation of the Anthropos of light within the heart. Padmasambhava’s full name means “lotus born,” which speaks to the birth of the Anthropos from the entheogenic use of the lotus drink. It may also mean the Anthropos is born from the heart as a lotus. Either way, there is little doubt that the internal methods and fundamental ideas of this secret teaching are derived originally from the Rg Vedic soma ceremony.” The origin of the Tibetan practices of uniting the white and red bindus within the heart to form the “ground of being luminosity” comes from the Rg Vedic soma ceremony in its uniting of the white celestial soma with the red Agni fire. This practice is basic to most Tibetan Buddhist schools, two of which are the Dzogchen and the Kalacakra.
The soma ceremony of the Rg Veda is also the source of ideas about the subtle body in later forms of Indian religion, which connect the subtle body to the cakra system of energy centers. Only three such centers are distinguished in the Rg Veda soma ceremony. These three centers are the head, heart, and sexual areas, all of which contain vast energy reservoirs. The entheogenic soma ceremony includes methods of dramatically increasing the influx of life energy in these centers, which are brought into alignment to form a luminous pillar and are united in the heart. The later cakra system of energy centers along the susumna pillar of light was developed from this original simple system.
The later systems found in various yoga and tantra schools that count four, five, seven, nine, and higher numbers of chakras in the subtle body have their origins in the cosmology of the ancient soma ceremony.(12) Even with all the variations and multiplicity of spiritual techniques found in the numerous traditions of India, it is the rather simpler form of the interior soma ceremony by which most saints in ancient and premodern India realized the highest enlightenment. It is also the method they used to work miracles and the basis of the system that is used to heal and extend life.
In all countries in which alchemy has developed we can trace a spiritual as well as a practical or a physical form of development. Although most scholars have concentrated mainly on the physical form, it being the precursor to modern chemistry and metallurgy, the internal spiritual aspects of alchemy, based on ancient sacrificial rites, are older by far than their exterior counterparts. India has had a long history of alchemical practice, as we have shown, but very little work in the West has yet been done toward developing an understanding of its origins, its philosophical framework, and its procedures. As in the European Hermetic tradition, we find in India both a spiritual alchemy connected with the human body and a physical practice using herbs or minerals to restore youth and prolong the life of the body, as well as a combination of the two approaches.
Rg Vedic alchemy of the soma ceremony later became intimately connected with the pan‑Indian phenomenon of tantra. The origins of alchemy in India have always been associated with the beginnings of tantra. There is, as we have shown, overwhelming evidence of alchemy being practiced in India thousands of years before the advent of the Gupta period (200 B.c.E.‑400 C.E.), which is generally acknowledged as the era of the beginnings of tantra, the earliest extant tantric text having been dated no earlier flan this period Even though the texts have been dated to the Gupta print, much al the information they contain is much older. In fact, nearly curry Idea in later Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain texts that relates to ritual and practice can be traced back to the Rg or Atharva Vedas. Although we can determine the approximate date of composition for certain texts, it is very difficult to establish the chronology of philosophical ideas. It is certain that the later forms of Indian yoga, alchemy, and medicine take their forms and practices from the sacrificial rituals of the Vedas, especially the soma sacrifice. In Indian texts, especially the Tantras, it is clearly said that the ideas are simply a revival of forgotten ancient knowledge of the Vedas.(53)
Early Indian alchemy, using soma as the rejuvenative elixir, is primarily concerned with its spiritual side rather than the use of external mineral preparations. In the Rg Veda, however, certain plants, among which lotus plants were prominent, were definitely mind altering and used to enhance the internalization of the basic cosmology of the soma ceremony. As noted previously, the soma ceremony itself is of Indo-Iranian origin, and its central idea is of a white or luminous plant that grows from the primal waters of creation to become the living universe. This plant was the white haoma/soma; it is an internalized plant that grows from the heart to form the pneumatic body of light.
The ancient soma rituals of the Rg Veda provided methods of praxis for internal alchemy and philosophical ideas that were later taken over by both Buddhist and Hindu tantric sects. Alchemy and yoga became covalent within the Indian tantric synthesis. Certain forms of alchemy were simply secret veiled practices of yoga within a tantric framework. Spiritual alchemical practices such as yoga were an internalization of physical ideas based upon the assumption of the correspondence between the microcosm/macrocosm and the union of opposites. Through this internalization, the soma ceremony, alchemy, tantra, and yoga all later became interconnected. This interconnection turned alchemy into another system or means of spiritual perfection with a few new advantages, such as bodily immortality and freedom from all diseases.
It is important to note the difference between immortality and rejuvenation, for it is possible to rejuvenate the body continually for extended periods without reaching immortality, as they are two separate endeavors utilizing some of the same methods. Certainly the soma ceremony of the Rg Veda teaches both, but generally, extended longevity leads to immortality. The longevity given by soma is continuous as long as one drinks the soma. The soma ceremony creates a system that allows for perpetual soma production for an eternity. In the Rg Veda, the gods who drink soma are given life spans of one thousand years. In the hymns, however, the term thousand is figurative and means “infinite,” or an “infinite amount of time.” This fact is illustrated by the verse in which soma is said to bring wealth “bright with a thousand splendors.”(54)
Alchemy, no matter what country it developed in, was always veiled in secrecy. The methods of extraction of the alchemical elixir in the Rg Veda are also secret and difficult to understand. Any hymns that refer to the methods always veil the ideas with complicated symbolism that hides their true understanding. The extraction itself is of central importance since soma means “to extract” or “press out.” This extraction works on multiple levels. The secret, however, lies with the knowledge of the subtle nature of the universe and man, and how this subtle energy is expressed, generated, and identified with during the extraction process. In many cases, the extraction refers to the extraction of the light, both within the microcosm of the physical body and from the celestial soma plant of the third heaven that gives light to the universe. Sometimes the hymns are referring only to the entheogenic soma plant from which the juice is extracted. For a correct reconstruction of the soma ceremony lite many levels of the ritual must be understood, which is partly wily a clear understanding of the soma sacrifice has remained a mystery for so long.
The internal practices of yoga, particularly those associated with the subtle body, are particularly relevant to alchemy and the soma ceremony. This is true in the Rg Veda, but especially so in the later schools of Buddhist Siddhacarya, among Natha and Tamil Siddhas, and in the Kalacakra Tantra. The subtle pneumatic body was well known in the Rg Veda, and the entheogenic ceremony itself was used to generate it. It was through this body that miracles could be performed. Spiritual elixir alchemy was based upon the consumption of the elixir and the generation of the subtle body. Indian alchemical texts are full of cryptic allusions to the subtle body and its use in alchemical operations. One example is the Rasarnavakalpa (1000 C.E.), which describes the geography of the subtle body, which does not match any earthly sites. The text describes rivers that can only be interpreted as pneumatic and in the subtle body. It speaks of a country called Nagamandala, which confers perfection in all alchemical operations. The rivers it mentions, such as the Sarasvati‑, can only be interpreted as pneumatic channels in the subtle body.(55) This example and other Indian alchemical texts indicate that many alchemical operations are conducted through the subtle body. The same is true in European alchemy. Paracelsus says, “Man has an elemental and a super‑elemental body‑the `astral body’ (‘Corpus sidereum’). This is the body which `teaches man’‑for flesh and blood have nothing to impart but carnal desire. Through the astral body man communicates with the super‑elemental world of the astra. Its secrets‑the `adepta philosophia’ and `magnalia naturae’‑will thus be revealed to him. (56)
Yoga practices, which form the substructure of both Hinduism and Buddhism, have a long history of development in India. Even in the pre‑Vedic Indus Valley culture some form of yoga seems to have been practiced. The subtle body, which is so important in alchemy and yoga, has also been understood for a very long time. It was clearly distinguished in the core books of the Rg Veda. Knowledge of the subtle body is of particular importance in the soma ceremony, where it is used as the earliest systemized alchemical method of psychogenesis. Knowledge of specific yoga techniques and beliefs concerning the subtle body of light is crucial for an understanding of spiritual alchemy in early Rg Vedic India.
The earliest ideas about soma in the Rg Veda are closely associated with this subtle body of luminous energy. The “elixir of life” or “water of life” is the radiant energy source that sustains the subtle, interior, immortal body as well as the health of the external, physical body. The seed of this subtle body is the soul or soma itself as the inner sun, the divine spark of God contained in nature that can return to its origin in the realm of the gods. The subtle body is what meditation and the exercises of spiritual alchemy work upon to bring about the healing or rejuvenation of the physical body. This subtle body is intimately connected to consciousness and special states of being, and it is created by means of the logos, pneuma, and entheogens that unify the mind/heart/consciousness complex to devotional one‑pointedness.
The early alchemical ideas and practices involving rejuvenation in India depended upon an understanding of man’s relationship to the cosmic energies that operate within the universe. These are the energies that create and sustain the entire cosmos, and they are the same energies that man manipulates during the soma ceremony to rejuvenate and organize a new heaven, earth, and solar system. This means that life and the generation or creation of the diversity of species, both plant and animal, are created and maintained on the earth as well as on other worlds in the universe. All of this is done by way of the ancient cosmic ecology of the soma ritual. The term heaven here means energy or light, while earth means physical matter There is an important principle in the soma sacrifice that maintain, order on earth and in the heavens and brings about the continued formation of new stars and planetary systems within the universe. The soma ceremony maintains the entire universal order of creation, including the physical human body, by using the subtle energies within nature, which were used very early by mankind to alchemically rejuvenate the human body and cure it of disease.
It is in ancient India that specific psychomental healing and rejuvenation techniques were continuously developed, with people being able to heal others and themselves of diseases as well as to increase human life span up to 150 years or longer. In addition, the soma of the Rg Veda and Atharva Veda is the source of the alchemical phoenix legends, the Golden Fleece in alchemical tradition and ancient mythology, and “water of life” ideas. The Greek myth of the Golden Fleece has alchemical connotations and is associated with astral gold. In the soma ceremony, a special ritual sieve is prepared specifically from the skin and wool removed from a sacrificial ram. This woolen sieve is used in certain parts of the soma ritual to separate pressed liquid soma from its plant parts. During the movement of the soma liquid to the sieve, other liquids are added before the soma juice reaches the woolen strainer. In the Rg Veda, the twin Asvins are involved in this part of the ritual. As the celestial soma juice passes through it, the white sieve turns a bright golden color. This sieve is made in such a way as to allow seven golden streams to pass through it. The sieve itself becomes symbolic of the birth of the luminous sun and soul as the golden embryo, which contains the elixir of life that flows through it. In European alchemical tradition, ram’s wool is said to have been used in sieves for collecting gold from the auriferous rivers of Colchis, which gave rise to the myth of the Golden Fleece. But the myth was also interpreted by alchemists as an allegory of the spiritual journey to discover the “elixir of life.” Joseph Pernety interpreted the myth as providing clues to the supreme medicine for the human body.(57) Hermann Fictuld in his Aureum vellus (1749 C.E.) says that the “fleece represents the liquid astral gold extracted from the nature of higher realities . . . as a soul and seed, as a solar substance flowing out of God’s bounty, it gives life to things, sustains them, and is able to penetrate the most dense and solid bodies.” Fictuld says that the elixir is found at the center of some plants.(58) All of what Fictuld says pertains to the Indo‑Aryan soma ceremony and the fleece as the sun, which provides the liquid astral gold. This is the same as the solar elixir soma that gives and sustains life. Furthermore, in the Indo‑European Greek myth, the twin Dioscuri accompany the Argonauts to seek the Golden Fleece, which represents the sun as a golden embryo. The Dioscuri mirror the twin Asvins, who at the soma ceremony are involved with the Golden Fleece as the sun and its development into an alchemical golden elixir. Also in the Greek myth, the fleece is hung in a tree, which may symbolize the Rg Vedic cosmic tree of the universe. The Golden Fleece itself symbolizes the sun, which sends down its central foot or ray as the central pillar/trunk of the cosmic tree, while its rays are the branches of the tree. The fleece as the sun contains and pours down the golden elixir of life along its branches as sap. In the Greek myth, a dragon guards the Golden Fleece, just as in the Rg Veda a dragon called Vrtra is said to guard the soma.
The soma ritual is also probably one of the oldest systemized uses of an advanced medical/botanical practice using medicinal and hallucinogenic plants and herbs in conjunction with special mental states and rituals. The alchemical elixir that is soma and tier inter nal ecstatic experience created within a person during the soma ceremony paved the way for developments of paranormal psychogenesis and transmutation in later Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain ascetics. As we can see from many examples, the paranormal activity of’ transmutation is a special power that is acquired through the internalization of the soma ceremony. The herbal tradition of soma is found in later Buddhist and Hindu sources, where transmutation of any substance into gold can be accomplished through a special state of being induced either by herbal drugs like soma or other means. It is accomplished without any external chemical or electrical means. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (300 B.C.E.) say that paranormal powers can be obtained by consuming certain herbs. In the oldest commentary on the sutras, written by Vyasa, he says that the herbs refer to the “elixir of life.” This connects these herbs directly to the soma drinks in the Rg Veda and the paranormal abilities, which are experienced by the somapas after drinking soma.(59) In the Avatamsaka Sutra (100‑300 c.E.), a certain herbal juice or elixir that can change substances into gold is mentioned. The Mahaprajnaparamitasastra of Nagarjuna, translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva (344‑413 c.E.), which is many centuries before Geber (760 c.E.), counts among the siddhi, or miraculous powers, the transmutation of stone into gold and gold into stone. Nagarjuna explains that the transformation of substances can be achieved either by herbs or by the force of the core of being. Furthermore, “by means of herbs and incantations one can change bronze into gold. By a skillful use of herbs, silver may be transformed into gold and gold into silver. By spiritual strength [ecstatic state] man can change clay or stone into gold,” says the Mahaprajnaparamitopade’sa (402 C.E.).(60) Another yoga text says, “One of the siddhis [powers] obtained in yogic practice is `transmutation of substances into gold.(61) Further evidence is given in the following quote, which refers to certain tantric practices within the subtle body.
He who can gather and hold the red [sun or fire] and white [moon or soma] Tig Les in the Central Channel [susumna as cosmic pillar, will be able to work various kinds of miracles] …. He who can bring the Prana‑Mind and the pure Essence of the Five Elements into the Central Channel [susumna as cosmic pillar] can:
- Transform stones into gold;
- Walk upon water without sinking;
- Enter fire without being burned;
- Travel to a far distant cosmos in a few seconds;
- Fly in the sky and walk through rocks and mountains . . . (62)
The process described here works by uniting the red to the white. But one must know what the red and white really are, and where and how to to unite them. The Rg Vedic soma ceremony, more than any other text, tells this secret. In fact, the soma ceremony is the origin of the idea. There are many misunderstandings about how this process is accomplished, even in Buddhist and Hindu texts, since many of these texts were written by scholars who merely compiled the information from other sources without ever having experienced it.
In tantric alchemy, reference is often made to the white and the red, which correlate to soma as mercury and fire as sulphur. These are also referred to as milk and blood as well as semen and ovum. The symbolic terms refer to the two creative and opposing principles in the universe that are brought under control and united by the alchemists. The Hindu Tantra Kamakalavilasa states that the bindu, or essence of the universe, consists of two parts: one white, the other red, which represent Siva as soma and Sakti as fire In OW L11111 It SN terns. As has been shown, this dualistic symbolism is derived from the union of opposites in the soma ceremony of the Rg Veda. Much later they were associated with Siva and Sakti. Uniting the opposite.%, is considered the method of producing the philosophers’ stone. It is also the method of achieving enlightenment in tantric philosophy and the soma ceremony.
This union or coupling together of opposites was symbolized in alchemy as the Hermetic androgyne or hermaphrodite and in the soma ceremony as the rememberment of the primal man of light as Anthropos. This union is frequently represented in tantric statues of diva as half male and half female, and it is shown in the soma ceremony as the union of fire and water in the heart and the gathering of soma light essences to reconstitute the primal being of light as the solar heart.
There are many correspondences found between the Rg Vedic cosmological rituals of the soma ceremony and Chinese, GrecoEgyptian, Islamic, and European alchemy. Not only is soma the probable origin of the elixir ideas in Chinese, Greco‑Egyptian, Islamic, and European alchemy, but the cosmological framework of the Rg Veda, to which the soma sacrifice is integral, is full of references to what we might call alchemical ideas. The soma ceremony has a basic magical and alchemical cosmology running through it. This is the reason why both Greco‑Egyptian and European Hermeticists traced the traditions of magic and alchemy directly back to Indo‑Iranian haoma/soma sacrificial rituals, which they associated with Zoroaster. Thus in Marsilio Ficino’s Theologia Platonica, he gives the genealogy of wisdom starting first with Zoroaster, then
Hermes Trismegistus, Orpheus, Appollonius, Pythagoras, and finally Plato.(63) As far as the Renaissance Hermetic tradition was concerned, the creation of the “wisdom tradition” and the origins of the “ancient theology” originated with the Indo‑Iranians and their haoma/soma sacrifices. It was from this tradition that the entheogenic elixir vitae was originally conceived.
Reference: Soma: The Divine Hallucinogen by David Spess