There’s no way of thinking about Santa Claus without involving magic. A sparkling sleigh towed by flying reindeers in the middle of the night with millions of presents for the good boys and girls of the world. Normal people should be completely drunk or worse to actually see something like that. Well, according to a strange theory, this possibility is not far away from the truth. What if I tell you the unlikely source of the story of Santa and his helpers could be hallucinogenic mushrooms.
Of course you are now probably wondering how could some perception altering mushrooms be connected with the good old symbol of Christmas? John Rush, an anthropologist and instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin (CA) said:
"Santa is a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world"
Therefore the legend of Santa would derive from shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions who dropped a bag full of hallucinogenic mushrooms into locals' tents as presents in late December. This custom became a tradition during the winter solstice, when shamans used to collect some Amanita Muscaria (considered Holy Mushrooms even if it can be poisonous sometimes), dry them and then give them as gifts, using an opening in the roof of the tent through which people entered and exited, made because in that period snow is usually blocking doors. So this could be also an explanation of the reason why a big man like Santa should always pass through a tiny hole on the roof. Of course, a lot of scientists don’t believe in this strange connection, but there are more other coincidences that should be considered.
Mushrooms, like gifts, are found beneath pine trees. Even if this particular example could be seen as a pure coincidence, late author James Arthur, in his book “Mushrooms and Mankind”, points out that Amanita Muscaria lives throughout the Northern Hemisphere beneath conifers and birch trees. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the tree and the mushrooms, which are deep red with white flecks. This practice of the Christmas tree and the placement of bright red-and-white presents underneath could be partially explained. In his book, James Arthur wrote:
"Why do people bring pine trees into their houses at the Winter Solstice, placing brightly colored packages under their boughs, as gifts to show their love for each other … ? 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".
Then, what about “flying” reindeers? Reindeer are common in Siberia and northern Europe, and seek out these hallucinogenic mushrooms, just like the area's human inhabitants have also been known to do. In Siberian legends the reindeer took flight each winter after ingesting the Amanita Muscaria. Shamans would join them on a vision quest, by taking the mushrooms themselves and then, climbing the tree of life, they would take flight like a bird into other realms. Donald Pfister, a Harvard University biologist who studies fungi, suggests that Siberian tribesmen who ingested the Amanita Muscaria may have hallucinated that the grazing reindeer were flying. Also Carl Ruck, a professor of classics at Boston University, said:
"At first glance, one thinks it's ridiculous, but it's not. Whoever heard of reindeer flying? I think it's becoming general knowledge that Santa is taking a 'trip' with his reindeer. […]Amongst the Siberian shamans, you have an animal spirit you can journey with in your vision quest, and reindeer are common and familiar to people in eastern Siberia. They also have a tradition of dressing up like the mushroom … they dress up in red suits with white spots".
Another strange connection that Pfister pointed out is the fact that 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. If sneak a closer peak you’ll find mushrooms everywhere. That said, Pfister made it clear that modern-day Christmas and the ancestral practice of eating mushrooms are no longer strictly connected as they once were.
Talking about modern Christmas, this theory suggest that even the 1823 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore, is connected with the little mushrooms. The origins of Moore's vision are unclear, although Arthur, Rush and Ruck all think the poet probably used northern European motifs that derive from Siberian or Arctic shamanic traditions. Arthur wrote:
"At the very least, Santa's sleigh and reindeer are probably references to various related northern European mythology. For example, the Norse god Thor flew in a chariot drawn by two goats, which have been replaced in the modern retelling by Santa's reindeer”.
Last but not least, let’s talk about where Santa lives. 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".
What do you think about this theory? Do you think it could be a funny interpretation of Santa’s origins? Maybe Rudolph has his little bright red nose for a reason…