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The use of psychedelics in ancient Asia and Greece

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Bianca De Sanctis.

For our first talk of the semester, the Cambridge Psychedelic Society is very excited to host Matthew Clark to talk about his research regarding the historical use of psychedelics.

Talk abstract: The ritual drink called soma/haoma, which can be traced to the late Bronze Age (c. 1600 BCE ), is central to the religious practices of brahmans who perform Vedic ritual and also to Zoroastrianism. The three main theories currently endorsed by scholars are that soma/haoma was either fly-agaric mushrooms, ephedra or Syrian rue. The evidence seems to indicate that soma/haoma was a psychedelic/entheogenic drug of some kind (though not all scholars agree with this). I propose in my recent book (The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca, Muswell Hill Press, 2017) that soma/haoma was never a single plant but was instead a combination of plants that worked similarly to ayahuasca. I also propose that this kind of plant combination was most probably the basis of the ritual drink known as kykeon, which was used in Greek mystery rites.

Since 2004, Dr. Matthew Clark has been a Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), where he taught courses on Hinduism between 1999 and 2004. He has spent many years in India, which he first visited in 1977, visiting nearly all important (several hundred) pilgrimage sites and trekking around 2,000 miles in the Himalayas. He first engaged with yoga in the mid-1970s and began regularly practising Ashtanga Yoga in 1990. Since 2006 has been lecturing world-wide on yoga, philosophy and psychedelics. He is one of the editors of the Journal of Yoga Studies and is one of the administrators of the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies. His publications include The Daśanāmī-Saṃnyāsīs: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order (2006), which is a study of a sect of sādhus; an exploration of the use of psychedelic plant concoctions in ancient Asia and Greece, The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma and Ayahuasca (2017); and a short book on yoga, The Origins and Practices of Yoga: A Weeny Introduction (revised edition) (2018).

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The Cambridge Psychedelic Society was started last year as a platform to encourage discussion and education about psychedelic substances, their use in medicine, as well as their cultural, legal, philosophical, and artistic impacts. Everyone welcome. Advertising or soliciting illegal drugs is strictly prohibited.

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