We used to have an old, very bizzare Christmas decoration that we inherited from somewhere on my wife’s side of the family. It was made from some kind of early synthetic rubber material, and had Santa riding in his sleigh landing on this huge red mushroom. I never really got it. We just thought it was weird.
This morning I was listening to the podcast of yesterday’s Thom Hartmann radio show, and he related this story: Though he did not identify the mushroom by name, the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) grows in association with evergreen trees in the boreal forest. It is both poisonous and hallucinogenic.
But apparently reindeer can metabolize the toxin and excrete the hallucinogen unscathed. So Norse shamans would cultivate the mushrooms, encourage the reindeer to eat them, gather up the yellow snow and make a psychoactive brew.
And you wondered where the jolly man in the red suit, flying reindeer and elves from the North Pole got their start. Â I think we should thank the Amanita.
Hartmann’s story differs from the Wikipedia entry, which has the reindeer prancing from the effects of the agaric. But it still makes the connection between Amanita and Christmas traditions.