If you celebrated Christmas as a child, the story of a bearded old man flying around the world delivering gifts may have struck you as strange. But one interpretation of the myth’s origins is even stranger.
As Live Science reported back in 2012, magic mushrooms may explain the origins of Santa and his flying reindeer.
“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,” John Rush, an anthropologist and instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin, California, told Live Science.
Since the doors were usually blocked by snow, people usually entered through an opening in the roof — hence Santa’s famous chimney entry, Rush added.
Santa’s ‘flying’ reindeer
Some folklorists claim the flying reindeer tradition came from people tripping on these shrooms, since reindeer are common in Siberian climates. The reindeer are known eat the mushrooms, too.
Then there’s the fact that A. muscaria grow under trees (like presents), and are red-and-white (like Santa’s suit).
These mushrooms are usually toxic to humans, but shamans used them in religious practices because of their hallucinogenic properties, according to the book “Hallucinogens and Culture” by Peter Furst. A. muscaria is distinct from the “magic” mushrooms commonly used as a recreational drug, such as Psilocybe cubensis.
A compound known as muscimol is the main psychoactive ingredient in A. muscaria. Muscimol acts similarly to the brain signalling chemical GABA, which suppresses the activity of brain cells and produces relaxing feelings.
Fact or fiction?
The Santa-shaman theory is disputed by some.
If you look at the evidence, “you find that shamans didn’t travel by sleigh, didn’t usually deal with reindeer spirits, very rarely took the mushrooms to get trances, didn’t have red and white clothes,” Ronald Hutton, a history professor at the University of Bristol, told NPR in 2010.
Instead, Hutton says, Santa was invented in 1822 by a New Yorker named Clement Clarke Moore, who wrote the classic children’s book “The Night Before Christmas.”
But shamans and hallucinogenic mushrooms sound a bit more magical, don’t you think?
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