As we pass the winter solstice, so begins our end of year rituals. Ritual celebrations convoluted over time, only to fit in with the society today. The traditions of our popular culture (Christmas, New Years, etc.) actually find their roots in early Pagan ceremonies that guide us to the closing of a chapter, to be reborn in a new year. The cultural Zeitgeist tells a story that during Christmas time we celebrate the birth of Jesus, however we are actually following astrological patterns, celebrating the balance with seasonal cycles and the precession of the equinox. This is the finite choreography of the stars, and the winter solstice is special occurrence that allows dreams to manifest in the year ahead.
While studying the origins of Christmas, specifically in relation to the Santa mythos – there has been a lot that seems to be lost in the ground that the “root” of the story takes place in. Many people have studied this, and it’s been revealed that the origin of Santa is actually the spirit of the Kamchadales and the Koryak Shaman from Siberia. These Shaman wore red clothing, with white accents in homage to the Fly Agaric mushroom. This hallucinogenic mushroom can be found beneath only specific trees, like the fir or pine, which they understood as the Tree of Life. The Mushrooms are the literal “fruit” of those trees, and grow from the roots. The Shaman would collect these fruits, and bring them to the homes of the tribe. They would dry them over the fire, or hang them on the pine tree inside their homes. This specific mushroom played an important role in their end of the year rituals, because astrologically there is something consistent and special happening. The energetic vortex of the winter solstice provided a gift that allowed humanity to connect with a higher power to gain insight.
These traditions were passed down, and found their way into the rituals of civilized societies like Denmark and Great Britain. With that, they lost an integral piece of the puzzle that was the soul of these rituals.
Mankind tends to seek a better definition, even if the root of the story is lost beneath the soil. So, eventually we find an opportunity to anthropomorphize the spirit of the shaman, which is where St. Nicholas comes into play. Jolly old St. Nick is the patron saint of the weary traveler, and the poor. This is one of the most important parts of the story, because with St. Nick, there is the importance of “making a list”, which is actually a Pagan ritual that will allow the manifestation of intention. This tradition was brought to Great Britain by the druids. Children are powerful, and using their energy to perpetuate something negative like capitalist gains, only further degrades our current society. The secret is not to make a list of material things that we desire – which is absolutely perpetuated by consumerism – but make a list of needs met with good intention. Whether for the self, of the better of humanity or the environment, it is important to understand what it is you truly need.
St. Nicholas also embodied the ethos of “giving to others in need”. This is the most significant part of the interpretation of this mythology. As the Shaman gave the psychedelic experience to those stuck in their homes during Siberian winters…this awoke their spirit, and gave them an understanding that could never be explained. It’s a sacred experience, and it was ritualized. St. Nicholas on the other hand, took what he could, and gave it to the poor. That is the tradition we need to perpetuate. It’s not about family gifting. It’s truly about spreading joy, and bringing joy.
While this time of year can be daunting due to the cold, it is a time for reflection, hibernation, empathy and gratitude. The darkness of winter, only brings forth the light of the spring…your intentions during the dark of winter should lay in positive actions, that will bring forth a positive future. In keeping to the concept of Karma – you reap what you sow. It’s a time of year, where we plant the seed of our intentions, into the soil of the universe. Life is beautiful, and it’s the season to reflect and embrace it. Give what you can, and the universe will respond positively in the year that follows.
1. Arctic shamans gave out mushrooms on the winter solstice.
According to the theory, the legend of Santa derives from shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions who dropped into locals’ teepeelike homes with a bag full of hallucinogenic mushrooms as presents in late December, Rush said.
“As the story goes, up until a few hundred years ago, these practicing shamans or priests connected to the older traditions would collectAmanita muscaria (the Holy Mushroom), dry them and then give them as gifts on the winter solstice,” Rush told LiveScience in an email. “Because snow is usually blocking doors, there was an opening in the roof through which people entered and exited, thus the chimney story.”
2. Mushrooms, like gifts, are found beneath pine trees.
The Amanita muscaria mushroom, which is deep red with white flecks
That’s just one of the symbolic connections between the Amanita muscaria mushroom and the iconography of Christmas, according to several historians and ethnomycologists, or people who study fungi’s influence on human societies. Of course, not all scientists agree that the Santa story is tied to a hallucinogen. [Trippy Tales: History of Magic Mushrooms & Other Hallucinogens]
In his book “Mushrooms and Mankind” (The Book Tree, 2003) the late author James Arthur points out that Amanita muscaria, also known as fly agaric, lives throughout the Northern Hemisphere under conifers and birch trees, with which the fungi — which are deep red with white flecks — have a symbiotic relationship. This partially explains the practice of the Christmas tree, and the placement of bright red-and-white presents underneath it, which look like Amanita mushrooms, he wrote.
“Why do people bring pine trees into their houses at the winter solstice, placing brightly colored (red-and-white) packages under their boughs, as gifts to show their love for each other …?” he wrote. “It is because, underneath the pine bough is the exact location where one would find this ‘Most Sacred’ substance, the Amanita muscaria, in the wild.” (Note: Do not eat these mushrooms, as they can be poisonous.)
3. Reindeer were shaman “spirit animals.”
Reindeer are common in Siberia and northern Europe, and seek out these hallucinogenic fungi, as the area’s human inhabitants have also been known to do. Donald Pfister, a Harvard University biologist who studies fungi, suggests that Siberian tribesmen who ingested fly agaric may have hallucinated that the grazing reindeer were flying.
“At first glance, one thinks it’s ridiculous, but it’s not,” said Carl Ruck, a professor of classics at Boston University. “Whoever heard of reindeer flying? I think it’s becoming general knowledge that Santa is taking a ‘trip’ with his reindeer.”
Were Santa and his reindeer on a magic mushroom-induced trip?
“Amongst the Siberian shamans, you have an animal spirit you can journey with in your vision quest,” Ruck continued. “And reindeer are common and familiar to people in eastern Siberia.”
4. Shamans dressed like … Santa Claus.
These shamans “also have a tradition of dressing up like the [mushroom] … they dress up in red suits with white spots,” Ruck said.
5. Mushrooms abound in Christmas iconography.
Tree ornaments shaped like Amanita mushrooms and other depictions of the fungi are also prevalent in Christmas decorations throughout the world, particularly in Scandinavia and northern Europe, Pfister pointed out. That said, Pfister made it clear that the connection between modern-day Christmas and the ancestral practice of eating mushrooms is a coincidence, and he doesn’t know about any direct link.
6. Rudolph’s nose resembles a bright-red mushroom.
Ruck points to Rudolph as another example of the mushroom imagery resurfacing: His nose looks exactly like a red mushroom. “It’s amazing that a reindeer with a red-mushroom nose is at the head, leading the others,” he said.
Many of these traditions were merged or projected upon St. Nicholas, a fourth-century saint known for his generosity, as the story goes.
There is little debate about the consumption of mushrooms by Arctic and Siberian tribespeople and shamans, but the connection to Christmas traditions is more tenuous, or “mysterious,” as Ruck put it.
7. “A Visit from St. Nicholas” may have borrowed from shaman rituals.
Many of the modern details of the modern-day American Santa Claus come from the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (which later became famous as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”). The poem is credited to Clement Clarke Moore, an aristocratic academic who lived in New York City.
The origins of Moore’s vision are unclear, although Arthur, Rush and Ruck all think the poet probably drew from northern European motifs that derive from Siberian or Arctic shamanic traditions. At the very least, Arthur wrote, Santa’s sleigh and reindeer are probably references to various related northern European mythology. For example, the Norse god Thor (known in German as Donner) flew in a chariot drawn by two goats, which have been replaced in the modern retelling by Santa’s reindeer, Arthur wrote.
Reindeer, which aren’t usually known to fly.
Other historians were unaware of a connection between Santa and shamans or magic mushrooms, including Stephen Nissenbaum, who wrote a book about the origins of Christmas traditions, and Penne Restad, of the University of Texas at Austin, both of whom were contacted by LiveScience.
8. Santa is from the Arctic.
One historian, Ronald Hutton, told NPR that the theory of a mushroom-Santa connection is flawed. “If you look at the evidence of Siberian shamanism, which I’ve done,” Hutton said, “you find that shamans didn’t travel by sleigh, didn’t usually deal with reindeer spirits, very rarely took the mushrooms to get trances, didn’t have red-and-white clothes.”
But Rush and Ruck disagree, saying shamans did deal with reindeer spirits and the ingestion of mushrooms is well documented. Siberian shamans did wear red deer pelts, but the coloring of Santa’s garb is mainly meant to mirror the coloring of Amanita mushrooms, Rush added. As for sleighs, the point isn’t the exact mode of travel, but that the “trip” involves transportation to a different, celestial realm, Rush said. Sometimes people would also drink the urine of the shaman or the reindeer, as the hallucinogenic compounds are excreted this way, without some of the harmful chemicals present in the fungi (which are broken down by the shaman or the reindeer), Rush said.
“People who know about shamanism accept this story,” Ruck said. “Is there any other reason that Santa lives in the North Pole? It is a tradition that can be traced back to Siberia.”