|| The Secrets of Santa Claus|
Do you recall the red mushrooms with white spots that are so frequently pictured in fantasy and fairy tales? Well reindeers get high and ‘fly,’ and so did these ancient Santas! The ‘jolly old elf,’ was thought of with terror in some cultures, and Christmas Eve was considered to be the most dangerous time of the year for children! There are as many tales of Santa Claus as there are cultures. Read more to find out some of the Secrets of Santa Claus…
In Scandinavia and Northern Europe, ‘Santa’ was once more of a ‘pagan goblin,’ than the generous Father of Christmas most now fondly envision. He did bring some benefit to the farms he protected, by keeping evil ghosts away from the crops and livestock, however in return, he made demands of his own. On Midwinter eve, he expected that the farmer should serve him a feast, in the form of bread or porridge. He demanded the very best of the harvest, and was known to be very nasty if not appeased in this way.
During the period from 1400 –1600 AD, in Central Europe, two visitors came on Christmas Eve (sometimes celebrated on December 6th.) First, a being dressed similarly to how we think of St. Nick, arrived and brought gifts to the good children. He was followed by the nasty Black Peter, who punished bad children, or gave them birch rods (often used for beatings) for presents. These two figures eventually blended into one, called Ru Klaus (Rough Nicholas.) While he bestowed gifts on the children that were good, he frightened those children who had been bad. Over the centuries his personality mellowed into the ‘jolly old elf’ we now think of as Santa. His current look was heavily influenced by the 1930’s advertising campaign of the Coca-Cola company, who ran a series of paintings by Haddon Sundblom.
In Iceland, the Yule Cat made a visit! This creature was reported to be gigantic and fearsome, and according to legend, ate humans who were lazy. Finishing the work on the autumn wool crop was an important community activity in Iceland, those who participated were given a new article of clothing in appreciation of their efforts. The Yule Cat is said to have peeked in the windows of homes on Yule, to check if everyone was wearing something new, if all was satisfactory, he moved on. Parents made sure that their children had some new article of practical clothing, not wanting them to be un-willing sacrifices to the Yule Cat. The Yule Cat served the needed purpose of motivating lazy children and villagers to ensure the survival of the community.
In Lapland, Stallo (meaning ‘metal man’) made a visit. A gigantic, horned and hairy wildman, Stallo is supposed to have enjoyed his macabre genital mutilations of innocents! Stakes were driven into the ground to mark where water supplies were available, since on Christmas Eve, Stallo rode around in a reindeer driven sleigh, looking for a drink of fresh water. If unable to locate his drink, Stallo was known to crush children’s skulls and drink their blood and brains! Christmas Eve was considered the most dangerous night of the year for Lappish children, with Stallo riding around looking for naughty children to put into his sack!
In Sweden, Jultomten lived and made toys at the base of Mount Gesunda, where a gigantic meteor’s impact millions of years ago, formed Lake Siljan. Jultomten was bearded, dressed in furs and cared for animals. He was thought to have shamanistic powers over the elements, and legends tell that he was known to crawl into children’s rooms and bestow prophetic dreams. Swedish Christmas traditions still include leaving bowls of milk and porridge on Christmas Eve for Jultomten.
Thor (Donner in Germany) wore red and flew in a Golden Chariot, which was pulled by Cracker and Gnasher, two goats. The Big Dipper is considered to be this Golden Chariot, which circles the North Star in 24 hours, just as Santa’s sleigh encircles the Earth on Christmas. There was also a Teutonic god called Hold Nickar, (aka Poseidon, in Greece,) who was known to gallop through the winter solstice sky granting boons to his worshippers on Earth.
In the southern parts of what was once Yugoslavia, it was believed that Woton (or Odin) rode through the woods or sky on Christmas night. The Chariot of Odin may represent what we now think of as Santa’s sleigh, in some versions of the story it is pulled by horses, but in others by reindeer. Other legends say that Odin and his white horse are fleeing devils as they race through the sky. Blood and foam drip from the exhausted horse’s mouth, and the droplets that fall to the Earth cause sacred mushrooms to grow the following year.
Ancients in the area of modern day Finland and the central Russian plains honored a World Tree, whose roots stretched to the underworld; whose trunk existed in the plane of everyday existence; and whose branches reached to the heavenly realm in the sky. The North Star was considered to top the tree, and shamans made spiritual journeys by climbing this ‘tree’ to the realm of the gods. Red and white amanita muscaria mushrooms, aka ‘fly agaric,’ were used by the shamans for insight and transcendental experiences, and were considered to be the fruit of this tree. (Similar traditions in nearby regions, included the decoration of a “Paradise Tree,” a fir whose branches were adorned with apples, and represented the Garden of Eden’s “Tree of Knowledge.”)
Amazed at how the treasured mushrooms sprang from the earth without seed, the ancient Laplanders considered their appearance a ‘virgin birth,’ resulting from the mating of the morning dew (semen of their God) and the Earth. This red and white mushroom grows primarily under pine trees, but is sometimes found under Birch, Oak and other coniferous trees. Considered a ‘gift’ of nature, amanita muscaria grows symbiotically with the tree. Its roots actually attach to the roots of the pine tree, thus the sacred mushrooms are thought of as the ‘fruits’ of the tree, appearing during winter rains under the pines like a Solstice gift.
The Laplander’s ancient traditions also included the reindeer, who were sacred to them, and upon which their lives depended in so many ways. The reindeer too, enjoy the mushrooms, frolicking and prancing about after ingesting them. When the Shamans went out to collect the mushrooms they traditionally dressed in red and white furs, and high black boots. They carried the mushrooms in sacks and entered their people’s yurts through the smoke hole entrances to deliver the mushrooms to those inside. Shamans guided the yurt’s inhabitants on preparing the mushrooms, having them string them and hang them by the firehearth to dry. This decreased their poisonous qualities, and increased their potency and psychedelic properties. Many people thought that their shamans could fly or that they used flying reindeer to get from place to place. During shamanistic journeys, Shamans believed that it was the reindeer who spiritually carried them through space and time. The Saami shamans of Lapland, (called Noid, Nojd, Noyde, and Noajdde) are said to have power over the weather, being able to control the winds and storms. The Nojd were also believed to have powers of second sight, invisibility, shape-shifing, and the ability to create illusions.
The amanita muscaria mushroom grows under pine trees all over the world. It’s effects are supposed to include feelings of flying, and shamans report visions of winged reindeer. It also causes the face to take on a flushed, “ruddy” glow. The fungus’ hallucinogenic properties come from the Ibotenic acid it contains, and is said to distort the perception of size (both larger and smaller.) Mood changes reported seem to range from peaceful and mellow to quite the opposite - in fact, it is reported that the Vikings used it to go “beserk.”
It is said that the potency of these sacred mushrooms was such that it remained in the urine of both reindeer and humans. It was so sacred that it was commonly ‘recycled’ by drinking urine that had passed through the human body as many as six times! Drinking urine was also considered safer, as the first person’s body eliminated many of the mushroom’s toxins. The poor often drank the recycled urine of those better off. Humans drank each other’s, and tripped out reindeer urine, and used their own urine to help attract reindeer that had wandered from the herd. It is reported that some scholars believe that the phrase, “to get pissed” comes from these traditions. In 1739, a Swedish explorer, Georg Steller, noted that the Koryak people captured and tied up intoxicated reindeer. When the mushrooms’ effects wore off, the animals were slaughtered, and their meat was eaten for the visionary experiences.
The practice of ingesting mushrooms continues to this day by Siberian Shamans. Amanita muscaria is consider a religious sacrament, and though it is suppressed by the government, its value remains high among native tribesman. Shamans partake of the substance to achieve spiritual visions, out-of-body travel to the spiritual realm, and use it as a guide for healing and teaching.
Norwegian Fungus of the Month, 12/99
Santa is a Wildman, by Jeffrey Vallance, LA Weekly, 12/20/2002
Mushrooms and Mankind : The Impact of Mushrooms on Human Consciousness and Religion, by James Arthur, The Book Tree, (May 22, 2003)
The Origins of Yule
“The Psychedelic Secrets of Santa Claus”, by Dana Larsen, Cannabis Culture Magazine, 12/19/2003
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