CHAPTER TWO: SIXES
3. AS FAR AS CHINA
HEAVEN AND HELL IN THE HIMALAYAS
II. 3. AS FAR AS CHINA
Taking the Sufi hint, let us turn to Chinese culture for two examples of culturally expressed sixness. The first of these is the Chinese written character given the primary meaning "tree" [ ], which has the approximate graphic shape of a six-pointed star. In its archaic form, the "bone writing" style (from the early second millennium BCE, or some four thousand years ago), inscribed on tortoise shells used in archaic rituals of divination, the character has its most symmetrical shape [ ]. Called mu, it was traditionally numbered "75" among the basic ideograms of the written language, the list of 214 radicals or root characters in the system already in use by the ninth century BCE, and codified around 213 BCE by Li Ssu, who was premier of the emperor Huang Ti. Thus adopted by scholarly and bureaucratic establishment of the Han Dynasty some two thousand years before the present, the system has remained in widespread use down to the present.
[ Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, Volume I: Introductory Orientations, Cambridge at the University Press (1965), p. 31 . See also, Volume II, p. 347; and "Note on the Chinese Language," Volume I, p. 27 f., p. 31.]
A chart of these radicals, arrayed so as to facilitate analysis of the Chinese written character, appears handily printed on the end papers of the widely-used Rose-Innes Dictionary; the chart is printed more fully on an unnumbered double-page spread following page xix. In this reference work, the character for "tree" is called ki and boku as in Japanese. The key to a Chinese Qabala--if such does exist--might be discovered in the attempt to rationalize a study of the language that led scholars to construct this list of radicals. In Mathews' Chinese English Doctionary, another standard reference, the Qabala--if any--is even more obscure: the character is listed as MU (Muh), and entered under the number 4592.
[ Arthur Rose-Innes, Beginner's Dictionary of Chinese-Japanese Characters: With Common Abbreviations and Numerous Compounds, Meisei Sha, Tokyo (n.d.). Mathews' Chinese-English Dictionary, Revised American Edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (1972), a reference first very kindly brought to our attention by Mr. Joseph Duane, Esquire.]
By associational coincidence as subtle as inframince--the Duchampian theory of an "ultra-thin," or hyper-refined sensibility--the 75th anniversary is referred to in the West as a diamond jubilee. The shape of No. 75, the character mu, in the bone writing style [ ], is identical with a 2-dimensional rendering of the ritual implement called Vajra in Sanskrit, or rDorje in Tibetan, translated as either "lightning bolt" or "diamond," and which symbolizes the abstract idea (deeply important in Tantric Buddhist thought) of "indestructability." Recall that Duchamp said of the hidden object,
I will never know whether it is a diamond or a coin.
[ Sanouillet, Salt Seller p. 135; Schwarz, Complete Works p. 462. "A Conversation with Marcel Duchamp," edited version of an NBC-TV interview, at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, conducted by James Johnson Sweeney, January 1956. ]
In the widely misunderstood esoteric tradition of the Tarot cards coins (or discs) serve as tokens for "pentacles," one of the four suits of the "Lesser Arcana" that evolved into playing cards. Coins are still commonly depicted on European cards, while in the modern American bridge deck the former suit of pentacles has become known as diamonds. In the symbolic associations of the Tarot, the pentacles represent one (ordinarily the second) of the four paths followed by developing awareness: put in simple terms, the path of the intellect and knowledge, concerned especially with issues of theory and belief.
Coinage in the Western world is said to have originated with the Cyzycian stater, minted by the city-state of Cyzycus, an active trading community on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara, near the Dardanelles. If the first coin in the Western world was not the stater, it was a similar weighed-out and die-stamped lump of gold or electrum (the naturally occuring, and later also a man-made alloy of gold and silver) from the Lydian city of Sardis, or from the nearby Carian city of Miletus, around the seventh century before the present era.
Among the Chinese, coinage was produced in copper--much more plentiful and cheaper than gold--called "cash," and pierced with a square hole so the pieces could be collected on a string. The earliest form of coined money--though not discs--was almost surely Chinese, dating from the Shang (or Yin) dynasty of the fifteenth to the eleventh centuries BC; and there was a knife coinage of the ninth century BC.
Both of these were cast like all subsequent Chinese metal coinages [with the exception of some eighth or seventh century BC] small pieces of gold stamped, like the coins of Lydia, with the imprint of a square seal. Disc coins do not appear in China until the period of the Warring States [fourth or third century BC].
[ Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, Volume I, p. 247. ]
The question of the historical primacy for minting coins is involved and unsettled, depending upon the shape of the metal (blobs or discs) and whether it was cast, stamped with a die, or both. Metal money, punch marked with square dies, also appeared in India in the late seventh century BCE. The significant difficulties of establishing material cross-cultural connections, and the limited knowledge we do have about ancient patterns of trade, has allowed theories of "stimulus diffusion," defined as "new pattern growth initiated by precedent in a foreign culture," in which the germ of an imported idea is held to develop in novel ways because nurtured by a different local genius.
[ A.L. Kroeber, "Stimulus Diffusion," Americn Anthropologist, Volume 42 (1940), p. 1. Professor Needham, the "amateur" Sinologist and professional embryologist, comments (p. 247): "This is interesting, for the concept of stimulus diffusion in social evolution has an exact parallel in the individual morphogenesis of vertebrates. Modern experimental embryology has shown that when xenoplastic transplantations are made (as between frogs and newts, for instance) a piece of inductor tissue which normally would stimulate the tissue on which it acts to produce horny jaws will induce teeth if teeth are the usual response made by the competent tissue receiving the stimulus." ]
While cast forms of money in China may indeed have been common earlier than their Western counterparts, diamonds in China, on the other hand, were virtually nonexistent. The most precious stones known to the ancient Chinese were typically opaque and richly colored varieties of jade or lapis lazuli, worked into gemstones by intricate carving. Transparent, precision-cut, highly polished jewels appear to have been wholly unknown to them until introduced by Hellenistic Western travelers from sources in India. Such stones--and the diamond-tipped drills capable of boring holes through gnarly jade, "the stone of heaven"--were in fact among the very few Western items that initially seem to have elicited great interest among otherwise culturally self-satisfied subjects of the Central Kingdom.
[ Berthold Laufer, The Diamond: A Study in Chinese and Hellenistic Folk-lore, Field Museum of Natural History Anthropological Series, Publication 184, Chicago (1915), pp. 5, 27 ff. ]
In ancient China coins (and surely not diamonds) were used in one method of divination associated with the I Ching, or the Book of Changes, recently become so popular in the West. While the system was apparently never used explicitly for binary counting in China, the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1646-1716) was amazed to discover in the I Ching a perfectly adequate binary notational system, and persisted for the rest of his life in the erroneous belief that this implied some understanding by the Chinese of zero and positional value in counting. But the number six does figure importantly in the I Ching. The text, one of China's great literary classics, is devoted to analyzing and commenting upon sixty-four kua, or hexagrams--all possible permutations of graphic figures composed of six lines drawn either as unbroken (yang or male: --- ), or as broken (yin or female: - - ).
[ See Needham, "Addendum on the Book of Changes and the Binary Arithmetic of Leibnitz," Science and Civilisation, Vol. II, pp. 340 ff. The edition of the I Ching translated by Richard Wilhelm, and rendered into English by Cary F. Baynes, Princeton University Press, (3rd edition, 1967), has been for years far and away the best-seller for that distinguished press.]
The oracle can be cast by using either Chinese cash (three coins), or by a rather more complex ritual of sortilege conducted with fifty stalks of the yarrow plant (Artemisia siberica). We note that SORTILEGE, or "the reading of lots," is cognate both with the process of SORTING and with SORCERY. These words derive--as do SERIES, SERMON, and DISSERTATION--from the Indo-European ser(3) "to line up," through the Latin sors meaning "lot" or "fortune" (probably from the lining up of lots before drawing). The stalks themselves may represent symbolically an even earlier method of divination involving arrows which, together with drums and spears, were traditionally counted among the basic divinatory equipment of Northern Asiatic shamanism. Although the divinatory importance of the text does not seem to have attained great importance in China until the third century BCE, its use was certainly based upon archaic methods of oracle consultation.
At least four different forms of divination are at the bottom of the Book of Changes: (a) peasant omen-interpretations; (b) the "drawing by lot" of plant stalks, short and long, which gave the lines of the symbols; (c) the divination by marks on the heated carapaces of tortoises or shoulder-blades of mammals...and (d) divination by tablets of some form or other (dice, dominoes), since the character kua originally meant a tablet.
[ Needham, Science and Civilisation, Volume II, History of Scientific Thought, (1956), p. 309; 132. Professor Needham also provides an extended section (pp. 304 ff.) on the origins of the I Ching. ]
In the modern method of divination involving yarrow stalks: from the batch of fifty, one is removed and plays no further part in the process. Each of the six lines of the final hexagram is determined through repetition of an intricate sorting and counting-out procedure with the principal forty-nine stalks--actually quite a good method of random access. Even though the number of stalks (49) can be seen as 7 X 7 matrix, and the number of possible hexagrams (64) as 8 X 8 matrix, this may be coincidental. But in one important aspect of sixness the sixty-four hexagrams as an expression of the two possible states (either whole, male, yang, or divided, female, yin) raised to the sixth power (as there are six lines in a hexagram).
It seems unlikely that in the next millennium we would see the disappearance of such a deeply imbued pattern of systemic thinking as that illustrated by the I Ching but which pervades Chinese culture, both folk and official, from Taoism to dialectics. Nevertheless, there has not always been consensus. In the early 1990s, the official People's Daily reported the Chinese government has issued fines and administrative punishment to publishers and
has banned 25 books for spreading superstition, including studies of the "I Ching, the Book of Change," an ancient classic of prognostication and philosophy... [warning the public] to increase their vigilance and absolutely do not allow this kind of publication to harm society and poison people's thoughts.
[ Reuters, San Francisco Chronicle. (September 30, 1991) ]
The immediacy of spatial perception in the special circumstances of big wall mountaineering allows for a highly conscious, intense experience of exoteric, conventional space. But to experience anything with comparable clarity in the realm of interior space, we must necessarily employ different, appropriately esoteric techniques. Some of these, in echoing the six-fold quality of the four cardinal directions plus up and down, also manifest integral and obvious attributes of sixness. One such traditional visualization practice involves imagining oneself sitting within an ideal cube of space, accomodatingly life-sized, measuring some three or four meters along each edge. In esoteric as well as in exoteric practice, three axes or six directions from the center are sufficient for imagining such a space. But in contrast with the sensation of vertigo or an adrenalin rush occasioned by the physics and physicality of exoteric cliff-scaling ordeals, esoteric visualizations serve to balance one's internal state of mind, calming the respiratory and circulatory systems, as it were, "centering" the psyche.
We may note here a quickening approach to what many people understand as "real" secrets: experiences and phenomena (whether real or imaginary in a technical sense) regarded as not necessarily for everyone, perhaps not perceivable by everyone, possibly not even available to everyone, or at least not without special instruction and guidance. In the popular mind this spectrum of what constitutes the esoteric crosses a fuzzy domain between the inside and the outside, the real and imaginary, or Being, Seeing Being, and Being Seeing Being (or the Being being seen). Just so, the question of "secrets" comes up in discussing yogic practices or breathing techniques traditionally developed through initiatory regimens and supervised disciplines of self-observation.
Clearly, such "secrets" are different from the kind passed along by whispering children. The external, exoteric situations can be understood very well without ever actually putting oneself in such extraordinary situations as dangling from a granite cliff face secured by a single Jumar clamp (after the other one had slipped.) But the esoteric phenomena are indeed "secret," not because their practice is forbidden by the dictate of some orthodoxy, nor merely because precise verbalizations are difficult to formulate, but because the states themselves must be experienced in order to be recognized at all. And yet, there is a good customary reason for not casually discussing these internal phenomena, except with one's spiritual friend or meditation teacher. Observance of these constraints may stem from the realization that however magnificent or frightening one's internal visions may be--like our dreams--and no matter how real they may seem to us, for most of the rest of the world they will be totally beside the point. To be sure, even second-hand accounts from the world of fictive experience, for some people, merely complicate the imprecisions already clouding and confounding their views of themseles in the world people conventionally call real.
In the Indian tradition the snake-like kundalini, imagined as sprouting from a "bulb" at the base of the spinal column, ascends by six stages, up through various centers or chakras, parallel to the spinal column up to the "third eye" (taken to mean either the pineal or the pituitary gland), that is, up to the 1000-petal lotus center (located in the vicinity of the superior fontanelle). The purpose is to achieve finally a sense of openness, expansiveness and equilibrium centered in the heart, assumed to be in the center of the chest. This heart chakra, or "center," is represented by six symbolic lotus petals in both Hindu and Buddhist iconography. The word chakra comes from Sanskrit and means "circle" but implies an imaginary focus of consciousness rather than a specifically anatomical locus or physiological function.
Some recent speculation by Leonard Enos proposes locating these chakras, together with their associated general phenomenon of kundalini energy, in that area of the brainstem called the reticular activating system.
[The Indian] model is based on what they experienced physically. The symbolism may have been presented to them in dreams, trance or hallucinatory states. They perceived these centers as lotuses located along the spine. Kundalini is felt in the body, so one could easily surmise that these centers were, in fact, located in the spine. There has been a great lore for years where Indians maintain that these things cannot be located in the gross body. But then they go ahead and locate it in the spine and evolve an elaborate [and imaginary] physiology....[Kundalini] would appear to be occuring as a meta-stable special state of the ascending reticular activating system--not just the reticular formation proper, but what they call the thalamic reticular activating system also. We know, neurophysiologically, that the activation of any center of the body occurs by descending activation. It comes from [or in any case via] the brainstem. It doesn't originate in that area of the [lower] body. All the information descends from the supraspinal area. Neurophysiologically, there isn't any case whatsoever for the chakras being located in the spine. All the purists, of course, are going to scream about this but that's just the way it is.
[ Interview with Leonard Enos in High Frontier: Reality Hackers Newsletter (The Official Newsletter of Science and Fun), Vol. I, No. I (April 1987), p. 1. Mr. Justin Smith kindly alerted us to this article.]
As a popular writer in the late 1980s, Enos sketched a counterpart to the Indian model, an alternative six-level neurophysiological relationship between various elements of the isodendritic core group. Such a real system could well correspond with the traditional six chakras. He also speculated on the interaction of neuroanatomical elements of the brain stem with the two imperfectly understood areas attracting the increased attention of researchers: the claustrum and the nucleus accumbens. These components of the basal ganglia are functionally tied in to both the striatum and the limbic system, associated with feeling and emotion, and hence may be of special importance because of their apparent roles in mediating higher levels of consciousness, and also in perform integral functions for metabolizing substances with psychotropic effect.
The Kundalini phenomenon has been bandied about for God knows how many years in the West. Ever since Blavatsky, I guess. But nobody really knows what it is. And nobody is making a serious attempt to discover what it is. Gopi Krishna introduced a bias at the very start by excluding psychedelics. He conceded that it might be a biochemical event but excluded psychedelics as something false. So right off the bat he excluded the one thing that, I believe, is going to lead to the discovery of what kundalini is. I never paid any attention to what he had to say or pursued his organization because I knew that I could find it just as fast as they could. Well, the connection with psychedelic drugs has been noticed by plenty of people. Walter Pankhe noticed it in his early work. Stanislav Grof knows about it and has reported instances of it. Obvious instances appeared in the early scientific literature about human LSD studies, although it wasn't recognized as kundalini because the researchers had no idea of its existence.
[ Enos, High Frontier.]
Richard M. Restak, M.D., in his popular book The Mind, the companion volume for a PBS television series, illustrates "The nucleus accumbens, the `pleasure center' in the septal area of the brain...." The cognitive neurosciences have recently come to acknowledge what the esoteric disciplines have long understood: namely, that there are several "pleasure centers" rather than a single one. Apparently there are also many ways by which they may be accessed as well: not only in terms of yogic strategies and tactical processes, but also according to the complex chemistry of neurotransmitters.
[ Richard M. Restak, The Mind, Bantam Books (1988), p. 117. ]
Like Doctor Restak, who has gathered these notes on dopamine and other neurotransmitters into his chapter on "Addiction," so too Time magazine featured the same lurid title for its cover article that includes discussion of the nucleus accumbens, dopamine, and the related brain functions associated with pleasure.
[ "Medicine," Time (May 5, 1997), p. 68 f., especially p. 71. ]
The internal sense of upward-flowing energies characterized as the kundalini or "serpent power" in India is a phenomenon widely known by parallel historical traditions. It is recognized as the specific internal psychic energy one develops when practicing certain traditional meditative exercises. Christian mystics, Taoists, Buddhists, Native Americans, Sufis, and other ordinary human beings in extraordinary moments report very similar if remarkable experiences, a correspondence which fascinated the great Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung, among others. It should come as no great surprise that practical techniques used to generate these internal experiences are also very much the same for all people, whatever their incidental cultural frame of reference. Otherwise, how could it be that paradise is described in essentially identical terms by so many different people?
The distinctions between people and traditions must not be nearly so important for internal consciousness as the similarities which underscore our essential oneness. The many different names given to this esoteric perception of the Unity may, however, be called in many different ways. The word PARADISE is from the Avestan (Eastern Old Iranian) pairi-daeza, circumvallation, a walled-in park or garden... and that wall was made of clay or mud bricks, as the Indo-European deigh means to knead clay. The same root yields cognates: FIGURE, FICTION, and EFFIGY (important for the arts) plus DAIRY, LOAF and LADY (= a "loaf-kneader," says Professor A.Y. Campbell in Onians, p. 472).
Civilized consciences revolt against the abuse of hallucigenic drugs--most of them habit-forming, dangerous, and unobtainable except by prescription, or in the black market. Spirits, tobacco, tranquilizers--all harmful if habitually taken--are however on [virtually] unrestricted sale and, because they provide no visions (apart from the fearful hell of delirium tremens), the Churches condone their use; for hard liquor merely depresses the senses, tobacco and tranquilizers merely dull them....Research should show how far the similarity of most people's visits to Eden or Tlalocan depends on the mushrooms' toxic properties...since a common tradition of Paradise may be attributed to ancient cultural contact even between distant civilizations, especially if these experiences can be shown to correspond with the physical action of a common toxin....Paradise, in fact, seems to be a subjective vision. As Jesus himself said: "The Kingdom of Heaven is within you." He might have added: "So is the Kingdom of Hell." The jewelled "Garden" can be obtained by the pure of heart without undergoing so austere a regimen as to become alienated from their friends....
[ Robert Graves, "The Poet's Paradise," On Poetry: Collected Talks and Essays, Doubleday, Garden City, New York (1969) pp. 367 ff. Also by Robert Graves, see "The Universal Paradise" in Difficult Questions, Easy Answers, pp. 77 ff. See also, Elizabeth B. Moynihan, Paradise as a Garden: In Persia and Mughal India, George Braziller, Inc. New York (1979, Scolar Press paperback edition 1982). ]
HEAVEN AND HELL IN THE HIMALAYAS
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition called the Vajrayana, or the "Diamond Path," the "diamond," (indicated by the Sanskrit word vajra, or rDorje in Tibetan), may also mean "lightning bolt," or the general idea of "indestructibility," "the adamantine." All Buddha forms may be understood as projections of the psyche, hence the graphic iconography includes a population of both benevolent and wrathful deities. Even in modern representations, we can see in this pantheon fierce descendants from ancient visions of heaven and hell. Buddhism entered Tibet on a long-term basis, with stunning historical success in the year 747 of the Current Era by Western reckoning. It was introduced (or reintroduced, since there had been earlier Buddhist influences in the Himalayas) by a real, but also quasi-legendary being named Padmasambhava (the "Lotus-born"), who had been (before his conversion to Buddhism) a powerful shamanistic priest of the pre-Buddhist, indigenous Bon-Po tradition. Apparently some cultural accommodations were made on the order of a "stimulus diffusion" as the gentle, vegetarian practices favored in the Buddhist homeland of the Indian subcontinent became inculcated into the intensely dramatic--and of necessity, largely carnivorous--lifestyle of the high Himalayas. Down through the dense cultural overlay of Buddhism in Tibet, we can perhaps still identify the vestigial details of native shamanistic practices which trace their roots back to a paleo-Siberian substratum that has, in the twentieth century, just barely managed to survive in remote geographical areas among the most reclusive cultures and marginal tribal societies.
In the inspired Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's 1974 movie Dersu Uzala, the title character is a turn of the century Goldi tribesman, a tragically surviving solitary hunter, the last member of a now disintegrated community. Dersu crosses paths in the vast expanse with a Russian military party sent to survey for construction of the Trans-Siberian railroad. In the true shamanic style of textbook totemism, Dersu Uzala identifies with the wild Siberian tiger, like him also an endangered species.
The Russians, not only seeking to exploit the wilderness but also anxious about their impending political and military conflict with Japan, did embark on a program of assault and cultural subversion against the indigenous Siberian peoples in characteristic, destructive Western style. In addition to the inevitable exposure to new European pathogens, traditional cultures were deliberately undermined through the introduction of tobacco and alcohol. Field anthropologists in the early decades of this century report having discovered in the immense forests of Siberia surviving communities perpetuating use of the same ritual substances and "archaic techniques of ecstasy" which had formed the core of native people's religious observations for millennia. But the Russians prohibited such practices, and the substances themselves were outlawed, sadly reflecting similar misguided and repressive programs in the United States, and the basic absurdity of political entities declaring plants and fungi to be either civil criminals or military adversaries.
In the sacred art of Tibet, figures representing emanations of Buddhist spirituality are often depicted holding an iconic object euphemistically called a bowl or cup. In fact, it is the top part of a human skull that has been sawed off just above the ears. The iconic image is understood to represent metaphorically one's own skull, with the intermingling of its red and white contents symbolizing Wisdom and Compassion. Inescapable, however, is the idea that--at some time in the presumably distant past--the image might also serve as a true depiction: that deep among the shamanic roots of ecstatic practices, in fact, is a primitive karmic trace of ritual cannibalism.
However, anyone who believes the Tibetans and their Central Asian, paleo-Siberian ancestors were alone in all this simply betrays their own abysmal ignorance of both archaeology and mythology. The issue of cannibalism is met with in all histories that go back far enough. As witness of the deep psychic chord struck by the issue, we may refer to Francesco Goya's monstrously grand painting, Saturn Eating His Children in the basement of the Prado. The fresh-skull bride-price among the Iban Dyak of Borneo (now called Kalimantan) still obtained as a social obligation until World War II. And we must remember, despite the sensationalistism of the accounts, numerous cases of desperate people during sieges, or in other dire extremities such as those experienced by the Donner Party.
Despite the profound importance of cannibalism in the history and in the psychic memory of our species, taboos against the act have, in polite society, been transferred to taboos against sane discussion or objective thought about the subject. The exception to this is marginal prurient exploitation of the topic by the entertainment media. Studies in anthropology suggest differing motives for perpetuation of the archaic custom, besides situations in which a people's historically available diet betrays endemic protein deficiencies, or the exceptional times when consumption of human flesh is a rationalized response to the dramatic circumstances of extreme, survival-threatening deprivation.
Some writers even contend that injestion of fresh human brains contributed to the rapid mushroom-like evolution of our higher cortical hemispheres, and a case is made for the transmission of cytoplasmic genetic material by this method. Other researchers maintain that rituals of cannibalism have always had a potentially profound religious, psychological, and social efficacy for institutionalizing aggression.
Sexuality, aggression, magic, and morality--these are the great parameters of human culture. Any successful search for the elementary forms of cultural life must pay particular attention to these fundamental human instinctual needs. Cannibalism is the fundamental form of institutionalized human aggression--it is impossible to comprehend the true nature of human culture without understanding its role in human history.
[ Eli Sagan, Cannibalism: Human Aggression and Cultural Form, (Harper Torchbooks), Harper and Row, New York (1974), p. 143 f. See also Oscar Kiss Maerth, The Beginning Was the End (translated by Judith Hayward), Praeger, New York (1974). Kiss Maerth presents imaginative theories on evolution and innate human capacity for ESP; this study was very kindly brought to our attention by Dr. Joel Farb. ]
On some momentous but indeterminate occasion in history, in primeval Asia, as in most other parts of the world, actual human sacrifice was replaced by a symbolic ritual, just as recounted in the biblical story of the sacrifice of Isaac. Recent ethnobotanical scholarship offers a plausible explanation for this transformation of ritual: that ingestion of a psychedelic surrogate either precipitated, or in any event abetted the shift away from human sacrifice and cannibalism. Determined attempts to identify that substitute Eucharist by cultural historians and psychopharmacologists have produced an excellent candidate for the a role in the Amanita muscaria mushroom.
This particular species of Amanita is the well-known "toadstool" of children's literature, unique among the higher fungi in having a bright red pileus (or skin) with white spots. If correctly identified as soma, it was the principal subject of over a hundred hymns in the Rg Veda, the oldest surviving literary work belonging to the Aryan peoples who swept down into India in the second millennium BCE. However, since the fungus did not grow in the hot climate of the subcontinent encountered by the conquering and migrating peoples, it may have been supplanted by various yogic practices--originally meant to enhance and extend the effects from a precious and limited supply, but finally replacing the physical soma altogether.
[ See, R. Gordon Wasson, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich [Ethno-mycological Studies No. 1] (1968).]
It was such meditational practices of sensitizing the body--through fasting and other forms of abstinence, various purifications, controlled breathing, and an array of visualizations--that eventually became codified into the yogic regimen. Essentially the same physiological exercises and their corresponding psychic phenomena, though called by different names, lie at the center of some ecstatic meditations of Sufis, various Christian mystical teachings and, for example, what Taoist lore describes as the "Secret of the Golden Flower."
[ See, The Secret of the Golden Flower: A Chinese Book of Life, Translated and explained by Richard Wilhelm, With a Foreword and Commentary by C. G. Jung, Harcourt, Brace and World, New York (1962).]