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Santa was a Shaman: The Pagan Origins of Christmas

Prepare to embark on an extraordinary journey as we delve even deeper into the captivating connection between Christmas traditions and the enigmatic Amanita muscaria mushroom. Have you ever paused to contemplate the mystical origins behind the cherished tradition of bringing pine trees into our homes during the Winter Solstice, adorning them with ornaments, and placing gifts beneath their branches?

At the heart of this yuletide enigma lies the Pine tree, an emblematic symbol of Christmas. It’s beneath the boughs of these trees that we discover festively wrapped gifts, often cloaked in vivid red and white wrappings. These crimson and ivory packages harken back to a hidden treasure—a particular red and white mushroom that thrives beneath the forest canopy.

Delve deeper, and you’ll unearth the very colours that define Christmas: the lush green of the evergreen tree, and the vibrant red and pristine white of the mystical mushrooms beneath. Now, here’s where it gets intriguing—the word “Christmas” itself traces its etymological roots to the Egyptian “KRST,” a term that signified an “oiled/anointed one.” This epithet was tightly bound to sacred cakes, infused with or fashioned from the Amanita muscaria mushroom. While this ancient custom once traversed the globe, the lion’s share of our present-day symbolism stems from pre-Christian Northern Europe.

What’s in a name, you may wonder? “Christmas” is not just a label; it is a fusion of “Christ,” representing the “anointed one with the magical substance,” and “Mass,” denoting a religious ceremony where the Eucharist—also known as the “Body of Christ”—is sacramentally ingested. The magical act of transubstantiation, where a simple round wafer transforms into the “Body of Christ,” has since taken the place of the original sacramental cake.

Now, brace yourself for a revelation. While Christmas is predominantly perceived as a Christian observance, it weaves a tapestry of symbols and icons drawn from the ancient shamanistic traditions of pre-Christian Northern Europe. The epicentre of these time-honoured practices? The red and white Amanita muscaria mushroom is a key portal to spiritual experiences. Picture the dwellings of these ancient folk—yurts, akin to teepees, with central smoke holes that served both as chimneys and entrances.

Picture Siberian shamans, their garb adorned with red and white fur trims, embarking on mystical journeys to gather the magic mushrooms. As they collected these vibrant treasures, they would carefully arrange them on pine boughs to dry. This ancient custom echoes down the ages in the form of our beloved tradition of bedecking Christmas trees with ornaments. The shaman would then load these red and white gifts into a magical sack, embarking on a sacred pilgrimage to deliver them to homes, much like our beloved Santa Claus.

Now, think of Siberia, where snowdrifts would often engulf the yurts, necessitating the shaman’s descent through the smoke hole—reminiscent of Santa Claus descending the chimney to deliver presents. The villagers, in turn, would artfully suspend the mushrooms or place them in stockings by the hearth, where they’d dry overnight, ready for consumption come dawn.

This ancient shamanic tradition is richly documented in Siberia, persisting through ages of governmental restrictions and secrecy. Now, imagine the shaman’s mystical entry through the roof, clad in the same red and white attire—much like Santa Claus. Their shared symbolism is further underscored by the tradition of carrying the magical mushrooms in sacks, a prototype of Santa’s cherished sack of presents. An alluring parallel emerges as Siberian reindeer, known for their Amanita mushroom feasts, are revealed as a likely inspiration behind the legend of Santa’s flying reindeer, for the mushrooms induce sensations of soaring through the skies.

The enthralling connections between Christmas and the Amanita muscaria mushroom extend far beyond the confines of Siberia. Across various cultures and ancient civilizations, this remarkable fungus played a pivotal role in spiritual practices and rituals, ultimately influencing the traditions we hold dear.

In the indigenous cultures of the Americas, such as the Aztecs and Mayans, psychoactive mushrooms—akin to the Amanita muscaria—were revered for their ability to induce altered states of consciousness. These sacred mushrooms were consumed by priests and shamans during religious ceremonies, facilitating their communion with deities and granting insights into the divine.

In the ancient Middle East, the Soma, a mysterious and revered elixir, was believed to grant spiritual enlightenment and profound visions. While the exact identity of Soma remains a subject of debate, some researchers have drawn connections between Soma and psychoactive plants like the Amanita muscaria, suggesting that it might have played a role in the spiritual practices of the region.

In the Vedic scriptures of ancient India, references to the sacred Soma beverage abound. Although the exact botanical identity of Soma remains elusive, it was considered a central element in rituals and offerings to deities. Some scholars hypothesize that Soma might have been derived from mushrooms, possibly the Amanita muscaria, which are known for their hallucinogenic properties.

Throughout history, indigenous cultures worldwide have maintained deep-rooted traditions involving psychoactive plants and fungi, often using them as conduits to connect with the spiritual realm. These practices, which date back millennia, have influenced the religious and cultural tapestry of societies across the globe.

As we navigate the intricate web of Christmas traditions and their connection to the Amanita muscaria mushroom, we also embark on a voyage through time and across continents, unravelling the profound influence of this mystical fungus on the spiritual and cultural heritage of humanity.

In essence, the complex interplay between Christmas and the Amanita muscaria mushroom unveils a riveting perspective on the origins of holiday customs. While these theories may not universally prevail, they undeniably ignite curiosity and beckon us to delve deeper into the intricate tapestry of festive traditions.

Now we will dive into the intriguing realm explored by psychologists who unravel the phenomenon of ‘cognitive dissonance’ arising from the encouragement of children to embrace the tangible existence of Santa Claus, only to confront the revelation of parental fibs as they mature. In weaving this deceptive narrative for our children, we inadvertently strip them of a more captivating cultural inheritance.

In our contemporary hustle and bustle, there’s a rising tide dismissing Christmas as an overly commercialized affair, condemning it as a mere tribute to materialism and greed. Yet, the authentic essence of this winter celebration transcends the transaction of plastic trinkets. It resides in the homage to a gift from the Earth itself—the enchanting fruiting crown of a mystical mushroom and the enlightening experiences it unfurls.

Rather than perpetuating worn-out and perplexing holiday myths, consider embracing a more gratifying approach by returning to the roots of these seasonal festivities. Picture discarding the conventional and relishing the company of loved ones while delving into the enchantment of magical mushrooms. How about reconnecting with the basics and infusing your celebrations with a touch of the extraordinary? Immerse yourself and your loved ones in the magical world of mushrooms this season.

For more information see James Arthur’s book -“Mushrooms and Mankind” which this blog post was adapted from – it explores the historical, spiritual, and psychoactive dimensions of mushrooms in human civilization. Arthur delves into the ancient use of mushrooms in various cultures, emphasizing their significance in religious and shamanic practices.

He focuses on psychoactive properties, particularly psilocybin-containing species, the book suggests a profound impact on human consciousness and the development of religious beliefs. It also examines modern perspectives on psychedelics for therapeutic purposes, delving into the fields of ethnobotany and ethnomycology. I highly recommend it!

For a deeper dive check out the related videos below.


A look at Slavic, Baltic, Celtic & Germanic Christmas-time traditions and their similarities and origins, with a special focus on Yule, as well as the nature of Santa Claus.


This holiday season, envisage a return to the source of these age-old celebrations. Embrace the spirit of giving, cherish moments with loved ones, and embark on an exploration of the magical mushrooms with open hearts and open minds. What better gift can a family share than a fragment of love and enlightenment during this solstice?

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