Haoma is the Avestan language name of a plant and its divinity, both of which play a role in Zoroastrian doctrine and in later Persian culture and mythology. The Middle Persian form of the name is "hōm", which continues to be the name in Modern Persian and other living Iranian languages.

Sacred "haoma" has its origins in Indo-Iranian religion and is the cognate of Vedic "soma". For "haoma"'s relationship to Vedic "soma", see comparison to "soma".


Both Avestan "haoma" and Sanskrit "soma" derived from proto-Indo-Iranian "*sauma". The linguistic root of the word "haoma", "hu-", and of "soma", "su-", suggests 'press' or 'pound'. (Taillieu, 2002)

As a plant

In the Avesta

The physical attributes, as described in the texts of the Avesta, include:
* the plant has stems, roots and branches ("Yasna" 10.5).
* it has a pliant "asu" ("Yasna" 9.16). The term "asu" is only used in conjunction with a description of "haoma", and does not have an established translation. It refers to 'twigs' according to Dieter Taillieu, 'stalk' according to Robert Wasson, 'fibre' or 'flesh' according to Ilya Gershevitch, 'sprouts' according to Lawrence Heyworth Mills.
* it is tall ("Yasna" 10.21, "Vendidad" 19.19)
* it is fragrant ("Yasna" 10.4)
* it is golden-green (standard appellation, "Yasna" 9.16 et al)
* it can be pressed ("Yasna" 9.1, 9.2)
* it grows on the mountains, 'swiftly spreading', 'apart on many paths' ("Yasna" 9.26, 10.3-4 et al) 'to the gorges and abysses' ("Yasna" 10-11) and 'on the ranges' ("Yasna" 10.12)

The indirect attributes (i.e. as effects of its consumption) include:
* it furthers healing ("Yasna" 9.16-17, 9.19, 10.8, 10.9)
* it furthers sexual arousal ("Yasna" 9.13-15, 9.22)
* it is physically strengthening ("Yasna" 9.17, 9.22, 9.27)
* it stimulates alertness and awareness ("Yasna" 9.17, 9.22, 10.13)
* the mildly intoxicating extract can be consumed without negative side effects ("Yasna" 10.8).
* it is nourishing ("Yasna" 9.4, 10.20) and 'most nutritious for the soul' ("Yasna" 9.16).

In present-day Zoroastrianism

Many of the physical attributes as described in the texts of the Avesta coincide with the choice of plant used in present-day Zoroastrian practice. Although it cannot be ruled out that the plant, as it is used today, is a surrogate of the plant that was revered by ancient Zoroastrians, the choice of such a surrogate would presumably have been made to suit ancient practice. In present-day preparation of "parahaoma" (for details, see Ab-Zohr), ...
* the twigs are repeatedly pounded in the presence of a little water, which suggests ancient "haoma" was also water-soluble.
* the twigs have to be imported by Indian-Zoroastrians, who believe that they are, for climatic reasons, not obtainable on the Indian subcontinent.
* very small quantities are produced.According to Falk, Parsi-Zoroastrians use a variant of Ephedra, usually "Ephedra procera", imported from the Hari River valley in Afghanistan. (Falk, 1989)

Botanic identification

Since the late 1700s, when Anquetil-Duperron and others made portions of the Avesta available to western scholarship, several scholars have sought a representative botanical equivalent of the "haoma" as described in the texts and as used in living Zoroastrian practice. Most of the proposals concentrated on either linguistic evidence or comparative pharmacology or reflected ritual use. Rarely were all three considered together, which usually resulted in such proposals being quickly rejected.

In the late 19th century, the highly conservative Zoroastrians of Yazd (Iran) were found to use Ephedra ("genus" Ephedra), which was locally known as "hum" or "homa" and which they exported to the Indian Zoroastrians. (Aitchison, 1888) The plant, as Falk also established, requires a cool and dry climate, i.e. it does not grow in India (which is either too hot or too humid or both) but thrives in central Asia. Later, it was discovered that a number of Iranian languages and Persian dialects have "hom" or similar terms as the local name for some variant of Ephedra. Considered together, the linguistic and ritual evidence appeared to conclusively establish that "haoma" was some variant of Ephedra.

In the latter half of the 20th century, several studies attempted to establish "haoma" as a psychotropic substance, and based their arguments on the assumption that proto-Indo-Iranian "*sauma" was a hallucinogen. This assumption, which invariably relied on professed Vedic 'evidence' ("one" hymn of "c." 120), was, as Falk (1989) and Houben (2003) would later establish, not supported by either the texts or by the observation of living practice. Moreover, the references to entheogenic properties were only in conjunction with a fermentation of the plant extract, which does not have enough time to occur in living custom.

In the conclusion of his observations on a 1999 Haoma-Soma workshop in Leiden, Jan E. M. Houben writes: "despite strong attempts to do away with Ephedra by those who are eager to see "*sauma" as a hallucinogen, its status as a serious candidate for the Rigvedic Soma and Avestan Haoma still stands" (Houben, 2003, 9/1a). This supports Falk, who in his summary noted that "there is no need to look for a plant other than Ephedra, the one plant used to this day by the Parsis." (Falk, 1989)

As a divinity

The Yazata "Haoma", also known by the middle Persian name "Hōm Yazad", is the epitome of the quintessence of the "haoma" plant, venerated in the "Hōm Yašt", the hymns of "Yasna" 9-11.

In those hymns, "Haoma" is said to appear before Zoroaster in the form of a "beautiful man" (this is the only anthropomorphic reference), who prompts him to gather and press "haoma" for the purification of the waters (see Aban). "Haoma" is 'righteous' and 'furthers righteousness', is 'wise' and 'gives insight' (Yasna 9.22). "Haoma" was the first priest, installed by Ahura Mazda with the sacred girdle "aiwiyanghana" ("Yasna" 9.26) and serves the Amesha Spentas in this capacity ("Yasht" 10.89). "Golden-green eyed" "Haoma" was the first to offer up "haoma", with a "star-adorned, spirit-fashioned mortar," and is the guardian of "mountain plants upon the highest mountain peak." ("Yasht" 10.90)

"Haoma" is associated with the Amesha Spenta "Vohu Manah" (Avestan, middle Persian "Vahman" or "Bahman"), the guardian of all animal creation. "Haoma" is the only divinity with a "Yasht" who is not also represented by a day-name dedication in the Zoroastrian calendar. Without such a dedication, "Haoma" has ceased to be of any great importance within the Zoroastrian hierarchy of angels.

In tradition and folklore

In Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, which incorporates stories from the Avesta (with due acknowledgement), Hom appears as a hermit, dweller of the mountains, incredibly strong. He binds "Afrasiab" (middle Persian, Avestan: "the fell Turanian "Frangrasyan", "Yasna" 11.7) with the sacred girdle, and drags him from deep within the earth (named the "hankana" in Avestan, "hang-e-Afrasiab" in middle Persian) where "Afrasaib" has his "metal-encircled" kingdom that is immune to mortal attack.

In another episode, Vivaŋhat is the first of the humans to press "haoma", for which Hom rewards him with a son, Jamshid. "Yasna" 9.3-11 has Zoroaster asking the divinity who(first) prepared "haoma" and for what reward, to which Haoma recalls Vivahngvant (Persian: Vivaŋhat) to whom Yima Xshaeta (Jamshid) is born; Athwya (Abtin) to whom Thraetaona (Feredon) is born; and Thrita to whom Urvaxshaya and Keresaspa (Karshasp and Garshasp) are born. The latter two are also characters in priestly heroic tradition, and among conservative Zoroastrians of the hereditary priesthood, Haoma is still prayed to by those wanting children (in particular, honorable sons who will also become priests).The account given in the Indian Vedas closely agrees with that of the Iranian Avesta. The first preparers of Soma are listed as Vivasvat, who is the father of Yama and Manu, and Trita Aptya.

A legendary 'White Hom' grows at the junction of the "great gathering place of the waters" and a mighty river. . According to the "Zadspram", at the end of time, when Ormuzd triumphs over Ahriman, the followers of the good religion will share a "parahom" made from the 'White Hom', and so attain immortality for their resurrected bodies. ("Zadspram" 35.15)

James Darmesteter, in his 1875 thesis on the mythology of the Avesta, speculating on the Parsi belief that Ephedra twigs do not decay, wrote: "it comprises the power of life of all the vegetable kingdom... both the ved and the avesta call it the 'king of healing herbs'... the zarathustri scriptures say that homa is of two kinds, the white haoma and the painless tree (no doubt the source of the 'tree of knowledge' and 'the tree of life' in the biblical paradise)... could it be that soma is the tree of life? the giver of immortality?"

The Indian-Zoroastrian belief mentioned above also manifests itself in the present-day Zoroastrian practice of administering a few drops of "parahaoma" to the new-born or dying (see Ab-Zohr). The belief also appears to be very old, and be cross-cultural. As Falk, recalling Aurel Stein discovery of Ephedra plants interred at 1st century CE Tarim Basin burial sites, notes: "an imperishable plant, representing or symbolizing the continuity of life, is most appropriate to burial rites" (Falk, 1998 ).

It is possible that the "barsom" (Var. Avestan "baresman") bundle of twigs was originally a bundle of Haoma stalks. The Haoma divinity is identified with priesthood (see Haoma as a divinity), while the "barsom" stalks "cut for the bundles bound by women" ("Yasna" 10.17) is the symbol and an instrument of the Zoroastrian priesthood. Today the "barsom" is made from pomegranate twigs ("cf:" preparation of "parahaoma" for the Ab-Zohr).

The Haoma plant is a central element in the legend surrounding the conception of Zoroaster. In the story, his father Pouroshaspa took a piece of the Haoma plant and mixed it with milk. He gave his wife Dugdhova one half of the mixture and he consumed the other. They then conceived Zoroaster who was instilled with the spirit of the plant.

According to tradition, Zoroaster received his revelation on a riverbank while preparing "parahaoma" for the Ab-Zohr (Zatspram 21.1), that is, for the symbolic purification of "Aban" ("the waters"). This symbolic purification is also evident in "Yasna" 68.1, where the celebrant makes good for the damage done to water by humanity: "These offerings, possessing "haoma", possessing milk, possessing pomegranate, shall compensate thee".

Comparison of haoma/soma

Beyond the establishment of a common origin of "haoma" and "soma" and numerous attempts to give that common origin a botanic identity, little has been done to compare the two. As Indologist Jan Houben also noted in the proceedings of a 1999 workshop on Haoma-Soma, "apart from occasional and dispersed remarks on similarities in structure and detail of Vedic and Zoroastrian rituals, little has been done on the systematic comparison of the two" (Houben, 2003, 9/1a).

Houben's observation is also significant in that, as of 2003, no significant comparative review of cultural/sacred Haoma/Soma had extended beyond Alfred Hillebrandt's 1891 comparison of the Vedic deity and the Zoroastrian divinity. (cite book|last=Hillebrandt|first=Alfred|year=1891
title=Vedische Mythologie. I: Soma und verwandte Goetter|location=Breslau|publisher=Koebner

All more recent studies that address commonality have dealt only with botanic identification of proto-Indo-Iranian "*sauma". Houben's workshop, the first of its kind, dealt with "the nature of the Soma/Haoma plant and the juice pressed from it" and that "the main topic of the workshop (was) the identity of the Soma/Haoma." (Houben, 2003, 9/1b)

ee also

* preparation and use of "parahaoma" in the Ab-Zohr, "offering to waters".
* "Soma", the Vedic equivalent of "Haoma".
* other Tree of life concepts.


* – [http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?hl=en&lr=&q=author%3AHouben+intitle%3AThe+Soma-Haoma+problem&as_publication=Electronic+Journal+of+Vedic+Studies&as_ylo=&as_yhi=&btnG=Search Scholar search]
* – [http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?hl=en&lr=&q=author%3AHouben+intitle%3AReport+of+the+Workshop&as_publication=Electronic+Journal+of+Vedic+Studies&as_ylo=&as_yhi=&btnG=Search Scholar search]
* In cite book|last=Müller|first=Friedrich Max (ed.)|title=SBE |volume=Vol. 31|year=1887|publisher=OUP|location=Oxford

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