The Siberian Shamanism Origins of Santa Claus: Reindeer, Pine Trees, and.. Mushrooms?
Many of the traditions we see across the world that are tied to the Christmas holidays have a suprising similarity to the ancient traditions of Siberian Shamans. Through the description below, you can easily see the role of Santa Claus being filled by the local shaman. His gift to everyone on Chistmas (Winter Solstice)... dried out mushrooms that were hung by the fire with care.
The Mushroom That Grows Only Under the Christmas Tree
It all begins with a mushroom. Yes. A mushroom. Did you expect it to begin with something man made? Then you’re not thinking far back enough. Humanity’s first interactions were with earthly things.
The name of the mushroom is Amanita muscaria, also called Fly Agaric. Muscaria is a psychotropic, causing visions and altered states. It is also toxic, and must be handled in a particular manner so as to get the psychedelic effects without the toxic ones. You may have heard of the word “shaman”, which is a word from the Tungus-speaking people of Siberia, to connote a religious specialist.(1) The Tungusic are Russian indigenous people who live in the arctic circle (north pole) and they are reindeer herders. A shaman dealt with the mushrooms, as both a safety practice and as part of the spirituality of the people.
The shaman would collect the mushrooms in a bag and deliver them to families, who would then often hang them in socks around the fireplace to dry – the mushrooms would be ready to share their revelatory gifts in the morning of the solstice.
Amanita Muscaria grows only beneath a Christmas tree (coniferous/pine tree) in a symbiotic, non-parasitic relationship with the roots of the tree. (6) It used to be thought to be the fruit of the tree.
Ornaments and Santa's Outfit
And what about Santa's outfit and Christmas tree ornaments? Well... from JungleApocalypse:
To this day Siberian shamans dress in ceremonial red and white fur-trimmed jackets to gather the magic mushrooms. First they pick and place the mushrooms to partially dry on nearby pine boughs which prepares them for ingestion and makes the load lighter. This is why we decorate our Christmas trees with ornaments and bulbs, because the gatherers would always adorn trees with drying mushrooms.
Coming in through the Chimney
And of course, the final touch is how the shaman would enter homes to distribute the "gifts":
The tradition of the Shaman,[...], was to go into the forests and collect these shrooms that grow under pine trees or evergreen trees. The Shaman would collect enough for the entire tribe and then go to each of the houses, sometimes due to heavy snow the doors would be snowed in and the Shaman would have to enter through the smoke hole in the roof!
And then there's the flying reindeer. How did they fly? Mushrooms of course.
From the BBC:
There's tons more stuff on this subject in the full article.
And there's more great stuff in this article, "The Shamanic Origins of Christmas."
Image from anemoneprojectors on Flickr