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Mushrooms and flying reindeer: the shamanic roots of Santa Claus

This Christmas, consider celebrating Amanita Muscaria, an ancient psychedelic mushroom with clear connections to the holiday now celebrated as being the birth of Jesus Christ. Amanita Muscaria is the mushroom which started the Christmas tradition through Siberian Shaman cultures.

Ever wonder why Santa Claus is dressed in a red and white outfit and drives a sleigh that flies through the air pulled by reindeer? The origins of this imagery have nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas and everything to do with tribal shamanism and the Amanita muscaria mushroom.

The Amanita muscaria is a distinctive red and white-capped mushroom of the psychedelic sort, and like peyote, the psychedelic cactus used in spiritual rituals of some North American Native Americans, the Amanita is at the center of ancient shamanic rituals in parts of Siberia. Siberian reindeer are a primary domesticated animal, and are used to pull sleighs as well as for milk. In addition, reindeer have a role to play in shamanic practices using Amanita mushrooms. 

At some ancient point in time, as some researchers aver, Siberian shamans discovered that by letting reindeer eat fresh Amanita muscaria mushrooms, which when fresh are poisonous and cause severe vomiting if eaten by people, but are digested by the reindeer. The nauseating chemicals are safely metabolized and the psychoactive substances excreted in the reindeer urine. When consumed during shamanic ceremonies, the psychedelic liquid produces various mystical states and conditions, including the sensation of being able to fly, and has led to  myths about a red and white costumed shaman flying in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, and distributing gifts to the village by entering the smoke hole at the top of Siberian yurts; in mid-winter, snow drifts often obscure the ground-level entrances.

Among Siberian Shaman traditions, amanita muscaria also has a long connection with the pagan holiday Yule that preceded the current Christmas celebration, and is the basis upon which our current holiday is framed.. Christmas, lands on the true end of the year. With the winter solstice 3 days prior to Christmas, the sun metaphorically dies before being “reborn” to begin the journey once again south towards the summer solstice than is our current New Year’s. it is also the end of the seasonal cycle, which for many cultures signaled a seasonal and sun/God death and rebirth. With that symbolic connection, the holiday was, perhaps by taking a leap of faith – a tradition related to a death/rebirth process through the mushroom, as well. Amanita muscaria and psychedelic mushrooms are associated with death and rebirth, although the mode of action seems to be different from the more commonly known psilocybin.

The Real History of Santa Claus

Mushrooms, like gifts, are found beneath pine trees.

Sierra College anthropologist John Rush lays out the basis for his theory, explaining that the legend of Santa Claus evolved from a historical shaman figure that existed centuries ago. Rush insists that “Santa is a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world.”

Shamans who lived in Siberian and Arctic regions were reportedly quite familiar with these distinct red and white-spotted mushrooms and the hallucinogenic properties they hold. The fact that these shamans lived so far north explains why the Santa Claus we’ve come to know makes his home in a polar region. Carl Ruck, a classics professor at Boston University, supports this idea. “Is there any other reason Santa lives at the North Pole? It is a tradition that can be traced back to Siberia,” he says.

Shamanism in all its forms has a long tradition of initiating young people into the adult world, and psychedelics have been involved in many of those cultures rite of passage.rituals.

Other ethnologists point to the “shamanic rituals of the Sami people of Lapland, a region in northern Finland known for its wintry climate and conifer forests,” according to an article in The New York Times. Such accounts, “bear an uncanny resemblance to the familiar narratives of Santa and Christmas…” The use of dried and fresh Amanita muscaria feature prominently in Sami rituals

The mythology of the flying shaman slowly morphed as it worked its way west, through Russia and into Europe, eventually evolving into the mythology of Santa Claus, his flying reindeer, sleigh, and gift-giving. A natural syncretism led to the blending of cultural attributes, while preserving the essential character of the Shamanic myth and costume. Today, Santa Claus is a beloved cultural symbol of Christmas and stands in tandem with images of the Baby Jesus, the Star of Bethlehem, and the Three Wise Men. 

Thus, at this time of year we celebrate icons of both frozen arctic and Middle Eastern desert religions, traditions that began a world apart but were joined together by humanity’s common longing for connection.

Terence McKenna Santa Claus and the Amanita Muscaria Mushroom

The Misunderstood Magical Mushroom 

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