A Festive Tale: Amanita Muscaria & the Origins of Santa
By Silvija Suliokaite
The link between Christmas and the intriguing Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric) mushroom, the very idea is as enigmatic as it gets…
Picture Lapland, Finland—a vast land covered in dense forests and snow, where life dances to nature's ever-changing rhythms. Here, you discover the iconic Amanita muscaria, that distinct red-and-white mushroom.
It’s within this landscape that our story begins.
In these remote lands where food is scarce, the Amanita muscaria thrives. Forest reindeer feast on these mushrooms, stirring the interest of local shamans and Caribou herders.
The sight of these creatures indulging in the mushrooms sparked curiosity when they observed peculiar behaviour in the reindeer, prompting intrigue and experimentation.
Folklore stories speak of these shamans discovering something odd: the mushrooms' effects present in the reindeer's urine are without the harmful side effects. They shared this experience, offering it to those curious enough.
As snow covered Lapland, these mushrooms appeared, prompting the shamans' generosity. To bring joy during the dark season, they gifted these psychedelic fungi, journeying on sleds pulled by reindeer—the only feasible mode of transport in these snowy lands.
Illustration of a Siberian Evenki shaman from Nicolaas Witsen's Noord en Oost Tartarye (1705)
Picture this: a shaman, wrapped in fur against the biting cold, arriving at snow-covered cabins. Doors buried in snow meant entry through something resembling the chimney from above. Instead of toys, bright red mushrooms hung above fireplaces for drying, splashing colour into the winter scene.
The practice of drying mushrooms by the fireplace might explain the "stockings hung by the chimney with care." Strings tied to these mushrooms hung from tree branches, maybe indoors for preserving and preparing food.
Imagine within those cabins, the psychedelic mushrooms sparking all sorts of wonders. It's quite the sight—a shaman and reindeer gliding through the starlit sky, perhaps marking the origin of the story connected to Santa and his reindeer-led sleigh?
Gnomes transporting a fly agaric mushroom, from a German New Year's card, ca. 1900
This ancient tale weaves into today's celebrations— the stockings by the fire, bright red gifts placed under the tree, a Santa-like shaman delivering them through the chimney, and the mystical reindeer and sleigh.
It honours traditions passed through time, wrapped in the allure of the great Amanita muscaria. It encourages respect for the unexplained, hidden within these fascinating mushrooms.
So, during the festive period, think about how you can use your imagination to transform material Christmas into a celebration of love and giving.
And what’s the greatest gift to the world? Your presence.