Ah, Christmas. ‘Tis the season of gift-giving, food comas and drenching your Chrissy pud in spiced brandy. It’s also the time where the jolly bearded man circumnavigates the globe.
But have you ever stopped to question the origins of Santa Claus? (well, not including the upsetting time you caught your parents placing gifts underneath the tree).
One ancient folklore believes Santa Claus and magic mushrooms (amanita muscaria) are connected. Yep, it suggests our traditions were shaped by a time where Siberian Shaman would dress in red and white, hunt for magic mushrooms and drink psychedelic reindeer piss.
Whether this story we’re about to tell is true, well, that’s up for debate.
But it’ll make for a great story over Christmas lunch regardless.
But First, What’s The Traditional History of Santa Claus?
Most commonly, Santa Claus is linked back to Saint Nicholas. In Christian culture, Saint Nicholas was a kind man who would deliver gifts to the homes of well-behaved children in the early hours of Christmas morning.(3)
But as with any great story, it evolved. Quite a lot.
By the 1920s, Coca-Cola introduced its portrayal of Santa Claus. The dwarfish, jolly, red and white man appeared in magazine advertising all around America.
But it would be incorrect to say Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus, given there were similar depictions that date back to the 1800s. So, perhaps we owe the modern interpretation of the fat man to Coca-Cola – but they certainly didn’t invent him.(5)
But that’s not really why you’re here, is it?
You want to know what Santa Claus, red and white mushrooms and psychedelic reindeers have in common.
The Santa Claus Mushroom
Amanita muscaria (commonly known as the fly agaric) is a captivating mushroom, native to temperate and boreal zones in the northern hemisphere. Today, it’s found in countries all over the world under various coniferous trees, such as pine and birch plantations.
Visually? It’s the storybook version of a mushroom – a red cap with delicate white spots, sparking the imagination of children and adults alike.
But what’s particularly fascinating about amanita muscaria is its history in Siberia (near the north pole), and the similarities with our Christmas traditions.
So, let’s imagine you’re transporting back hundreds of years to winter near the north pole…
In Siberia, amanita muscaria would sprout up in large numbers on the snow-covered ground. It was often found beneath the pine trees due to a symbiotic relationship between the two species. And this looks awfully similar to the red and white Christmas presents we place underneath the tree today...
But if you think that’s the only connection, then you’re in for a real treat.
Caribou (reindeer) are incredibly common in Siberia, and Shamans had a strong spiritual connection with them.
And even today, these reindeer are known to deliberately search for and eat amanita muscaria mushrooms. They love the stuff. It’s believed they actually enjoy reaching an altered state of consciousness – which no doubt adds a bit of excitement to a long and cold winter.
So, what have we got so far?
Amanita muscaria has ties to the north pole.
They’re commonly found beneath pine trees.
Reindeers literally get high off them.
… But we’re not done.
In ancient communities, the Siberian Shamans would go around collecting amanita muscaria at the winter solstice and give them out as gifts to the local community. They would even dress like the mystical mushrooms – in red clothing with white spots.
And being an incredibly cold time of year, the yurts were often snowed in with limited access through the front door.
So naturally, they would climb up on the yurt and pass them down through the opening at the top. A little bit like a chimney, some would say.
But given the toxic nature of amanita muscaria, it wasn’t to be consumed in its raw state. So, these arctic communities would hang them in socks over the fireplace to dehydrate them. Some evidence even suggests they would drag pine trees into their homes to honour the mystical mushroom, then hang them out to dry over the branches.
Coincidence? Perhaps not.
There was also another way to filter out the toxic components of amanita muscaria. But a fair warning: put down your tea, it’s gross.
The Shaman would drink the urine of reindeer that had eaten amanita muscaria. This is because the reindeer had already filtered out the poisonous components, only leaving behind its hallucinogenic effects.
We’re talking psychedelic piss, people.
And once the mushroom was consumed – either in its dehydrated form or through reindeer urine – then came the celebrations.
There was loud singing and jovial dancing… Even the reindeers got involved.
And if this folklore is true, it’s easy to see how the hallucinating Shamans visualised the reindeers “flying high” through the sky. Plus, names like Dasher and Prancer are rather fitting, don’t you think?
Finally, let’s not forget Rudolph. The humble leader that loved amanita muscaria so much he had a nose that mimicked its scarlet red cap.
So there you have it, a snapshot into winter in Siberia all those years ago.
Some say these Shamanic traditions then spread to Great Britain, Europe and beyond, blurring the lines between religious traditions and psychedelic mushrooms.
So, is this folklore true? Well, we’ll leave that to you.
In some ways, we’re happy not knowing the answers and revelling in this ancient tale.
As the saying goes, you should never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
A word of warning: Amanita Muscaria is a poisonous mushroom due to its toxins and chemical compounds. At Natura Mushrooms, we don’t condone consuming Amanita Muscaria (or reindeer piss, for that matter). It’s serious stuff.