Psychedelic Mushrooms & The Alleged Shamanic Origins of Christmas

As the holiday season approaches and decorations are abound, many wonder about the origin story of Santa Claus and the Christmas tradition. Recent evidence suggests the story of Santa and his flying reindeer can be traced back to an interesting source: hallucinogenic mushrooms. Renowned anthropologists have described the iconic Christmas figure as a modern day counterpart of a shaman, or traditional medicine man. While academics have not arrived at a final consensus on whether or not psychedelic mushrooms are at the core of the Christmas story, there are certainly some compelling reasons why one might think so. This guide will embark on an evidence-based exploration of how hallucinogenic mushrooms might be at the origins of modern day Christmas traditions. 

Read Microdosing Psilocybe Cubensis: A Scientific Review in the Modern Psychedelic Renaissance 

Christmas Colors, Gift Giving, Chimneys, Flying Reindeer and the Amanita Muscaria Mushroom

The hallucinogenic mushroom in question is not the psilocybin mushroom, but in fact, the Amanita Muscaria mushroom. Also known as “fly agaric,” the Amanita mushroom is already commonly associated in folklore with fairies and gnomes – so it is perhaps unsurprising that the mushroom has some lineage to stories of flying reindeer and tiny elves. However, as explored in this piece, there is actually a fairly solid foundation behind why so many believe the fly agaric muscimol mushroom is tied to the following: the story of Santa, the colors he wore, the gifts he gives, the chimneys he enters, the milk and cookies he eats, and the flying reindeer he rides. 

Indeed, we may be telling a very different Christmas story this year!

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Shamanic Traditions Near the North Pole

According to writer and mycologist Lawrence Milliman, the Amanita Christmas origins likely started in Lapland, Finland – a region near the north pole where indigenous people (known as The Sámi) are believed to have practiced shamanistic rituals revolving around Amanita Muscaria. Amongst psychedelic enthusiasts, it is common knowledge that the use of psychedelic drugs – plants and fungi alike – are common staples of various shamanistic cultures.

 

In 2018, Milliman told The Atlantic that “long ago, the Sami people believed that the shaman, who ate an Amanita Muscaria, ended up looking like an Amanita Muscaria.” According to Milliman, the lore goes that the shaman who ate the red and white indeed became red and white in appearance. Folklore aside, it is quite interesting that both Christmas (Santa and Rudolph’s red nose) and the Amanita Muscaria mushroom are red and white. Milliman goes on to say “he came on a reindeer drawn sled” – another peculiar detail that brings us further from coincidence and closer to evidence. 

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The Psychedelic Origins Behind Santa’s Gift Giving

Other scholars are less sure the story starts in Lapland, but still certain it starts in the general arctic region amongst the indigenous shamans using Amanita Muscaria in their rituals. John Rush, Sierra College anthropologist and instructor, told LiveScience, “As the story goes, up until a few hundred years ago, these practicing shamans or priests connected to the older traditions would collect Amanita muscaria (the Holy Mushroom), dry them and then give them as gifts on the winter solstice.”

Another way to view this gift giving, according to Milliman, is that shamans were believed to bring “healing and problem solving,” which are indeed quality gifts to bestow! Nonetheless, both scholars agree that shamans gave their gifts by entering the roof of local homes. “Because snow is usually blocking doors,” Rush stated, “there was an opening in the roof through which people entered and exited, thus the chimney story.”

Milliman even states that the shaman was rewarded for their gift giving efforts with lots of food (perhaps the origin of leaving milk and cookies for Santa). However, this is just scratching the surface of the following parallels discussed below.

hallucinogenic mushroom psychedelic christmas santa claus shamanic

Flying Reindeer and Fly Agaric Mushrooms

A large part of the holiday spirit may have to do with “spirit animals.” According to Milliman, reindeer (common throughout Northern Europe and Siberia) love to eat mushrooms, and this includes Amanita mushrooms. “One of the effects [of Amanita Muscaria] makes you feel like you’re flying. And one can imagine that’s how reindeer feel as well.”

Carl Ruck, Professor of Classic Studies at Boston University, backs this idea, but with a twist. “Amongst the Siberian shamans, you have an animal spirit you can journey with in your vision quest,” Ruck told LiveScience. “And reindeer are common and familiar to people in eastern Siberia.” In other words, per Ruck’s view, Siberian medicine men who ingested fly agaric may have hallucinated that the reindeer were flying. 

Whether the shaman prototype of Santa and his reindeer felt they were flying or saw visions of flying reindeer, or both, doesn’t change our narrative too much here. To be clear, a shaman bearing the gift of red and white mushrooms, possibly dressed in traditional red and white clothing in homage of the magical mushroom, comes during the dead of winter on a reindeer-drawn sled through the roof of your home. Or perhaps he enters your chimney, you both take the sacred mushroom, and you are left with the “gift” or psychedelic insight and healing. Who are we to say this intense tradition would not leave it’s mark on our storytelling and winter celebrations to come?

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A Debate of Details, Not Mushrooms

As discussed above, Milliman, Rush, and Ruck may interpret the Amanita Christmas origins differently. Indeed, historian Ronald Hutton denies the origins all together. However, on a more serious note, there are a few parallels that can be stated concretely:

  1. Santa is red and white, fly agaric mushrooms are red and white.

  2. Santa takes a trip on his sleigh, shamans trip on psychedelic mushrooms amid rituals.

  3. Christmas gifts are found under a tree, mushrooms can and often do have symbiotic relationships with trees.

  4. Santa lives near the north pole, and the aforementioned shamanic cultures of Northern Europe and Siberia are indeed near the north pole.

And to end on a less serious note, one thing is for sure: Christmas is magical, and so are psychedelic mushrooms.

hallucinogenic mushroom psychedelic christmas santa claus shamanic

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