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Santa was a Shaman: The Pagan Origins of Christmas

Have you ever wondered why on Christmas we cut down/carry evergreen trees inside our houses, decorate them with fancy ornaments, and place presents underneath them?

So, why do people bring Pine trees into their houses at the Winter Solstice, placing brightly coloured (Red and White) packages under their boughs, as gifts to show their love for each other and as representations of the love of God and the gift of his Sons life? 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.

The Pine tree is one of the well-known central relics of Christmas. Under this tree is where those who are deemed good find their reward in the form of a present. A big red and white rounded mushroom grows under the very tree we are to look under on Christmas morning to find our gift.

Green, red, and white as Christmas colours comes from the evergreen tree and the red and white mushrooms underneath. The word Christmas originally comes from the Egyptian KRST (oiled/anointed one) and Mes, the sacred cakes annually made/ingested by the Egyptians. This Eucharist was originally made from Amanita muscaria or was the mushroom itself. The tradition existed all over the ancient world, but most of the iconography/symbology recognized today comes from pre-Christian Northern Europe.

The very name, ‘Christmas’ is a holiday name composed of the words, ‘Christ’ (meaning ‘one who is anointed with the Magical Substance’) and ‘Mass’ (a special religious service/ceremony of the sacramental ingestion of the Eucharist, the ‘Body of Christ’). In the Catholic tradition, this substance (Body/Soma) has been replaced by the doctrine of ‘Transubstantiation’, whereby in a magical ceremony the Priests claim the ability to transform a ‘cracker/round-wafer’ into the literal ‘Body of Christ’; i.e., a substitute or placebo.

Although most people see Christmas as a Christian holiday, most of the symbols and icons we associate with Christmas celebrations are actually derived from the shamanistic traditions of the tribal peoples of pre-Christian Northern Europe. The sacred mushroom of these people was the red and white amanita muscaria mushroom … These peoples lived in dwellings made of birch and reindeer hide, called ‘yurts.’ Somewhat similar to a teepee, the yurt’s central smoke hole is often also used as an entrance.

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. Next, the shaman collects his red and white presents in a sack and proceeds to travel from house to house delivering them.

During Siberian winters, the snow piles up past the doors of their yurts (huts), so the red and white clad shaman must climb down the smoke-hole (chimney) to deliver the presents in his sack. Finally, the appreciative villagers string the mushrooms up or put them in stockings hung affront the fire to dry. When they awake in the morning, their presents from under the pine tree are all dried and ready to eat.

The ancient shamanic use of Amanita muscaria in Siberia is well documented. Despite governmental oppression against its use, there are still many who refuse to accept the authorized state religion and continue the shamanic traditions in secret.

Just as the Siberian shaman (commonly dressed in red and white) would enter through the opening in the roof of a home where a ritual was to be done, Santa Claus also arrives on the roof and enters through the chimney. Just as the shamans would gather the mushrooms in bags which they would bring with them when performing a ceremony, Santa Claus also (on the Holy Day) brings presents in a bag. Siberian reindeer also enjoy eating amanita mushrooms and thus are often used as a lure by the deer herding natives.

Since one of the hallucinatory experiences often felt on psychedelic mushrooms is that of flying, Santa’s flying reindeer most likely derive from this. Reindeer were the sacred animals of these semi-nomadic people, as the reindeer provided food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. Reindeer are also fond of eating the amanita mushrooms; they will seek them out, and then prance about while under their influence … The effects of the amanita mushroom usually include sensations of size distortion and flying.

The feeling of flying could account for the legends of flying reindeer, and legends of shamanic journeys included stories of winged reindeer, transporting their riders up to the highest branches of the World Tree.”The flying reindeer, sleigh, and the entire Santa Claus mythology originate from Siberia where Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of children, is a supplanter to the indigenous Shamans. 

Saint Nicholas, known as the ‘Patron Saint of Children,’ is the most revered saint in Russia, second only to the apostles. He is the Russian Orthodox Church’s supplanter to the native people’s highly respected local Shaman. A Shaman is a holy man that is well acquainted with a form of spirituality that incorporates plant entheogens that facilitate the NDE (Near Death Experience), or out of body experience. Saint Nicholas may not have been a shaman, yet the symbolism on, and colouring of his robes could lend to speculation.

One of the side effects of eating amanita mushrooms is that the skin and facial features take on a flushed, ruddy glow. This is why Santa is always shown with glowing red cheeks and nose. Even Santa’s jolly ‘Ho, ho, ho!’ is the euphoric laugh of one who has indulged in the magic fungus.” Could this by why Rudolph’s nose is red? In an interesting play on words, another name for a large, capped mushroom is a “toadstool.” So if Santa is a mushroom, and a mushroom is a stool when children sit on Santa’s leg, they are sitting on a “toed” stool.

Santa’s famous magical journey, where his sleigh takes him around the whole planet in a single night, is developed from the ‘heavenly chariot’ used by the gods from whom Santa and other shamanic figures are descended. The chariot of Odin, Thor and even the Egyptian god Osiris is now known as the Big Dipper, which circles around the North Star in a 24hour period. In different versions of the ancient story, the chariot was pulled by reindeer or horses. As the animals grow exhausted, their mingled spit and blood falls to the ground, forming the amanita mushrooms.

It is fairly common knowledge that the Weihnachtsmann (St. Nick) was an amalgamation of older Germanic/Norse gods such as Thor, Donner, Odin and Wotan. What’s missing here is just as Santa flies through the skies in his sleigh, Odin (as well as the rest) rode through the sky in his chariot, which is depicted in the stars by ‘The Big Dipper’.

The Big Dipper is the chariot of Odin & Wotan, Thor, King Arthur, and even Osiris (of Egypt). The chariot that circles the North Star in a 24 hour period is thus also known as the sleigh of Santa Claus because it circles his mythological home, the North Pole. It is no surprise that Nordic/Germanic gods have connections to mushrooms in their mythology.

As Thor throws his mushroom-shaped hammer to the ground, mighty thunders and lightning cracks cause the real mushroom(s) to appear. As the horses pulling Odin through the sky in his chariot become overexerted, their blood mingled spit falls to the ground and causes the Amanita mushrooms to grow at those exact points.

Probably the first Santa was Osiris in ancient Egypt who rode his flying chariot to/from the North Pole, was born on December 25th, and celebrated by putting presents underneath an evergreen tree. Not only did Osiris ride the sky in a chariot, but after his death Isis found that an evergreen (Cedar) had grown overnight from a dead stump to full-sized; which was understood as a sign of Osiris’ rebirth and immortality. Interestingly, the traditional birth of Osiris is the 25th of December. The 25th of December was also celebrated annually by putting presents around the Cedar tree.

Santa, an anagram for Satan, dresses in red, keeps lists of naughty/nice children and seems to steal Christmas from Jesus. But if understood in its original mushroom context, Santa’s not a conniving, omniscient, list-keeper.

He’s an Entheogen, a plant or substance which is said to “generate the God within.” The word Entheogen breaks down, En for inside, Theo for God, and Gen for generate – generate the God inside. If you have ever taken an Entheogen(i.e. Psilocybin, DMT, Peyote, Ayahuasca), then you are already aware of the spiritual or even religious experiences associated with them. As anyone who has tried them knows, and almost anyone who hasn’t fiercely denies, these Entheogens put us directly in contact with that spark of the divine within ourselves.

They allow access to higher consciousness and open our third eyes; The outer material world dissolves and the “five” senses return to a state of one sense, one consciousness.

“Some psychologists have discussed the ‘cognitive dissonance’ which occurs when children are encouraged to believe in the literal existence of Santa Claus, only to have their parents’ lie revealed when they are older. By so deceiving our children we rob them of a richer heritage …Many people in the modern world have rejected Christmas as being too commercial, claiming that this ritual of giving is actually a celebration of materialism and greed. Yet the true spirit of this winter festival lies not in the exchange of plastic toys, but in celebrating a gift from the earth: the fruiting top of a magical mushroom, and the revelatory experiences it can provide. Instead of perpetuating outdated and confusing holiday myths, it might be more fulfilling to return to the original source of these seasonal celebrations. How about getting back to basics and enjoying some magical mushrooms with your loved ones this solstice?

What better gift can a family share than a little piece of love and enlightenment?”

– Dana Larsen, “The Psychedelic Secrets of Santa Claus”

This blog post is an extract from James Arthur’s book, Mushrooms and Mankind.

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