Yearly, ‘around the Holidays, I’m reminded how the Web is destroying our skill to suppose past what Google tells us to suppose. The message is repeated meme after meme, article after article, weblog after weblog – all recycling the identical misguided declare: particularly, that the trendy character of Santa Claus echoes psychedelic mushroom lore stemming from Siberian shamanism.
Since some (in actuality, comparatively few) Siberian medicine-workers devour the amanita muscaria fungus – the basic pink fairytale mushroom speckled with white dots – it’s imagined that Santa Claus one way or the other represents a contemporary incarnation of this mystical character from the colds of Mom Russia. The try to interpret the Santa saga as deriving from a mushroom-using Siberian shaman rests on the next 4 assumptions:
- The pink and white colours of Santa’s outfit match the pink and white colours of the amanita muscaria.
- Santa’s eight flying reindeer are based mostly on Siberian reindeer that eat the amanita muscaria and get “excessive.”
- We place presents below an evergreen Christmas tree as a result of mycorrhizal relationship (defined beneath) between evergreen bushes and the amanita muscaria. The presents secretly characterize the mushroom.
- We place mushrooms in stockings and hold them by the chimney with care as a result of that’s how shamans dried their mushrooms.
It makes for a enjoyable story. However all of that is mistaken.
A RED (AND WHITE) HERRING
Whereas it’s tempting to correlate the pink and white colours of Santa’s costume with the mushroom, such associations are purely coincidental. Throughout the 1800s, when Santa Claus was largely invented out of the sooner St. Nick, his costume went via a wide range of adjustments. Individuals didn’t take into consideration Santa as having a standardized outfit. And because it seems, pink and white weren’t the one colours worn by Santa in America’s nineteenth century creativeness. Nonetheless, we do know the place the pink and white got here from, and it has nothing to do with mushrooms. They got here from the pink, white, and blue of the American flag as proven on the quilt of Harper’s Weekly in 1863, which depicts Santa clothed in patriotic garb.
This picture appeared throughout the Civil Struggle; Thomas Nast, the illustrator, was a staunch abolitionist and he drew St. Nick decked out in stars and stripes, giving provisions to Union troopers. After the Civil Struggle ended, St. Nick’s outfit once more went via a wide range of adjustments till 1931 when Coca-Cola adopted him (now rechristened “Santa Claus”) as their spokes-elf. Coca-Cola advertisements have been already utilizing pink and white, and people colours have been chosen for previous St. Nick out of sheer comfort, not out of any affinity for the amanita muscaria.
If Santa’s costume colours actually stemmed from the mushroom, then that “reality” could be evident proper from the start. As an alternative, we see a pure, undirected cultural evolution that ultimately lands on pink and white for nothing greater than commercial functions.
THE MUSHROOM AND THE REINDEER
As for Santa’s flying reindeer, we encounter the same concern — a gradual evolution of character growth. Like Santa’s wardrobe, his reindeer even have a cultural historical past that makes the supposed associations with Siberian reindeer fairly unlikely. Whereas Siberian reindeer do eat the amanita muscaria, which has intoxicating results, it’s not the precursor for Santa’s flying reindeer. We all know this as a result of Santa’s vehicular flight predates any point out of reindeer.
The primary U.S. point out we now have of St. Nick with a flying automobile is present in Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker Historical past of New York (1809). On this e book, St. Nick flies round not in a sleigh pulled by reindeer however in a wagon pulled by no animal in any respect. In a while, even after reindeer first enter the story, St. Nick can be stated to have ridden a mule and a white horse — neither of which eat the amanita muscaria.
If the flying reindeer have been true echoes of Siberian mushroom consumption (by human or animal), then that may be evident proper out the gate. The flying reindeer must predate the flying wagon, however that’s not the case. And why are there different modes of journey, like horse or mule, if it’s actually a narrative based mostly on mushroom-eating reindeer?
MUSHROOMS UNDER THE TREE
The amanita muscaria exists in a mycorrhizal relationship with sure conifer bushes; which means the mushroom grows out of the mycelia that type underground and colonize the roots of the tree. Because of this, it’s stated, we place presents below the Christmas tree — as an unwitting nod to the mushrooms that develop there. Nonetheless, such an assumption is untenable for a lot the identical purpose all the opposite supposed connections fall brief: particularly, there’s a traceable historical past that reveals how we got here to place presents below Christmas bushes and, as soon as once more, it has nothing to do with mushrooms.
When fashionable Christmas traditions have been first forming within the nineteenth century, bushes weren’t related to presents in any respect. On the time, Christmas stockings (and sneakers) have been the popular gift-delivery system.1 Later, from the 1840s via the Eighties, Germanic folks immigrated to the US, bringing with them the Christmas tree. When Christmas bushes first arrived throughout this era, they have been hung from the ceiling.2
Within the 1800s, homes have been constructed with a single assist beam operating via the center of the construction (you’ll be able to nonetheless see this in previous, colonial-style homes as we speak). This sturdy plank allowed for celebrants to hold bushes from the ceiling. And so for some time embellished bushes might be seen hanging overhead. Because the structure in fashionable homes modified, and plaster ceilings changed these supported by the long-beam, Christmas bushes discovered a brand new house on tables. However they nonetheless had no affiliation with presents — there was no expectation of discovering a present left by Santa subsequent to a Christmas conifer.
In essentially the most well-known poem ever composed about Christmas, “A Go to from St. Nick” (1823), Clement Clarke Moore writes, “the stockings have been hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas quickly could be there.” Odd as it might sound, a Christmas tree is just not talked about as soon as on this most culturally vital poem about Christmas. It wasn’t till the mid-1800s that individuals began to affiliate Christmas bushes with Christmas presents. Nonetheless, they nonetheless didn’t place presents below the tree. In these days, presents have been sometimes small collectible figurines and candies that held on the branches of the tree alongside different decorations.
St. Nick or “Kris Kringle” hanging presents on branches.
Once more “A Go to from St. Nick,” offers us perception. Within the poem, whereas the youngsters slept, they don’t dream of bicycles and dollhouses, however reasonably easy gadgets like “sugar plums,” visions of which “dance of their heads.” With the rise of company capitalism within the late 1800s, the presents grew in measurement. What was as soon as a modest array of sweets and nuts and small knick-knacks had now change into hobbyhorses, dollhouses, and music containers. Being too giant and weighty, they might not discover actual property on the branches of the tree — and they also have been positioned beneath it.
Once more, we encounter a well-known downside. If inserting presents below the Christmas tree had something to do with the amanita muscaria fruiting mutualistically below evergreen bushes, then inserting presents below the tree ought to have been the primary, not the final to catch on as a Christmas customized. As an alternative we see the pure unfolding amalgam of a cultural pattern, spurred on by Germans (not Siberians), starting with the Christmas stocking and bushes hung from the ceiling; to small bushes positioned on tables with out presents; then to hanging small presents on the Christmas tree branches; and ending with the trendy customized of inserting presents beneath the tree. The place precisely does the mushroom match into any of this?
STOCKINGS HUNG BY THE CHIMNEY WITH CARE
The final declare about psychedelic Santa holds that we initially used stockings because the reward service as a result of that’s how Siberian shamans dried their mushrooms — by hanging them (like we hold socks filled with presents). That is a straightforward one to debunk.
Not like the opposite features of the trendy Santa fable which unfolded over time, we are able to hint the origin of placing presents in stockings to 1 medieval story about St. Nick. It was stated that Nicklaus had heard of a widower who couldn’t afford dowries for his three daughters. Nick, a person who legend holds was born into wealth, threw gold cash via the person’s window as dowry for his first daughter. One other night time, Nicklaus threw extra cash via the window as dowry for the second daughter. When Nicklaus returned for the final time to throw cash via the window for the third daughter, just a few cash bought caught in a stocking that she was drying beside the chimney. That, not mushrooms, is the place the custom originates.
It’s noteworthy – and ironic – that the Siberian shaman model of Santa Claus is totally absent from well-liked Russian lore about their mythic Midwinter determine, Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), who’s accompanied by Snegurochka (the Snow Maiden). By the way, Ded Moroz and Snegurochka journey in a sled pulled not by flying reindeer, however as a substitute by terrestrial horses. The supposed affiliation between Siberian reindeer and Santa’s reindeer is particularly an American invention — modern Russians have largely by no means even heard of it any greater than Individuals have heard of Ded Moroz and Snegurochka.
There are different ironies as nicely. The Siberian shaman entered well-liked Western tradition within the late 1700s. Many books, work, and mycology guides — all that includes the amanita muscaria mushroom — have been produced throughout the 1800s, when our fashionable concepts about Santa Claus first developed.3 The 2 cultural figures (the Siberian shaman and Santa Claus) each entered Western well-liked tradition across the identical time, and but they by no means overlapped!
All through the 1800s, nobody who wrote about St. Nick (as he was reworking into Santa Claus) related him with shamanism or the mushroom. Likewise, nobody who wrote in regards to the amanita muscaria and varied Siberian cultures ever stated something about Santa Claus or St. Nick. You merely can’t discover this within the literature – even at a time when “medicine” didn’t have the social taboo they’ve as we speak.4
SO HOW DID IT BEGIN?
So, when and the way did the story of the “shaman Santa” originate? It doesn’t come from the deep abysses of historical past however could be traced fairly precisely to the twentieth century. The primary particular person to ruminate on this supposed connection was Robert Graves in his (appropriately titled) Troublesome Questions, Simple Solutions (1972). However he supplied no proof for his declare.
The thought handed round largely unnoticed from Graves to ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott within the late Seventies. The primary full size e book, nevertheless, to debate the attainable connection between Santa Claus and the shaman was Tony van Renterghem’s When Santa was a Shaman (1995). Curiously, van Renterghem doesn’t cite any dependable sources to again up his declare. Apparently (based mostly on his bibliography) he wasn’t even conscious or noticed no use for both Graves or Ott’s concepts. And he makes no connection between Santa Claus and the amanita muscaria.
The truth is, Renterghem says nothing about mushrooms in any respect — in any context. Certainly, it virtually seems like he purposefully skips over them when addressing “shamanic” methods: “sound, music, dancing, mimicry, masks, make-up, costumes, and artwork, in addition to fireplace, intercourse, and violence …”5 However no mushrooms. For Renterghem, the “shamanic” affiliation with reindeer comes from an historic “symbolic fertility ritual … to magically enhance the expansion of the herd.”
Psychedelic mushrooms weren’t a part of the ceremony.6
The primary substantial writing to tie Santa to the mushroom got here in 2007, with Patrick Harding’s The Christmas E-book (2007). Sadly, like van Renterghem earlier than him, Harding affords zero precise proof to again up his claims. He leaves us questioning the place he bought these concepts. The reply is kind of easy: he made all of them up.
This critique is much less in regards to the bogus connection between Siberian mushroom-eating shaman and Santa Claus and extra in regards to the flippant means data is shared within the fashionable age. Just about each related article, YouTube video, and web weblog on this matter will trumpet the psychedelic Xmas fable as in the event that they weren’t simply plagiarizing one another. Apart from the shortage of originality, this copy-cat phenomenon underscores how we’re slipping steadily right into a post-fact world the place celebrities, “influencers,” pseudo-journalists, and clickbait cravers can bandy uninformed claims in regards to the nature of the world and historic realities to a gullible viewers. Within the course of, we’re shedding our skill to suppose critically about something.
We’ve got changed sincere inquiry with information-fishing within the oceans of our personal echo chambers. We purchase into fables about Santa Claus and magic mushrooms for a similar purpose a conspiracy principle will get traction. It permits us to really feel like we now have some sort of privileged information in regards to the world and reinforces what we’re already inclined to imagine.
Thomas Hatsis is the creator of a number of books, together with The Witches’ Ointment and LSD The Marvel Youngster: The Golden Age of Psychedelic Analysis within the Fifties. Copyright, Venture CBD. Might not be reprinted with out permission.