Christmas Amanita

Christmas Amanita

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.  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.

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9 thoughts on “Christmas Amanita”

  1. Hi Craig!
    Glad for you visiting my blog in Sweden thrue Pam.
    I hope you visit again and make a coment, so I now.
    If you make a coment I can try to translate my text for you.
    I visit your blog after the hollydays and see your blog again.
    Sorry for my english;)
    Best regards and Merry Christmas

  2. LOL! Interesting… the fly agaric was supposedly one of the things that helped the Berserkers get battle-crazy as well. (Although other theories hold that it was just the adrenaline of fighting that gave them their almost superhuman strength and stamina.)

  3. So when Cheech and Chong talk about Santa using “majic dust” to get the reindeer to fly in “Santa and His Old Lady”, they aren’t far off? Cool!

  4. It’s not just Santa and the reindeer, even Christianity can be seen to have many roots in the magic trips those shrooms can take you on. Way healthier to ingest them after somebody else has eaten them first, though. Read The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross by John Allegro (1970).

  5. In pre-Christian times, Siberian Shaman collected the fruitbodies of Amanita muscaria from beneath woodland coniferous trees, as Amanita mycelium shares a symbiotic rhyzomorphic relationship with the root systems of these trees. As a result, the mushrooms sprout up from beneath such trees when fruiting conditions are achieved, and form a circumventing ring around their base – eg “fairy ring,” or “presents beneath the ‘christmas’ tree”. The shaman collected copious quantities of the mushroom in large sacks – most likely utilizing a sleigh or similar apparatus (as we are talking about Siberia after all) and brought them back to their village. Reindeer, endemic to Siberia, also utilize the Amanita as a food source during the scarcity of Siberian winter. Amanitas are commonly dried over heat before ingestion, and it has been asserted that they were hung above hearths and fireplaces to do just that… when dried, they were distributed among the village folk and consumed in an enlightening and rapturous celebration of the pagan winter solstice. These practices are “common” knowledge, though I can say with great certainty that few post-Christian civilizations the world over dare accept the possibilitiy that pagan cultures that ingested psychoactive fungi directly influenced one of their most important and beloved Christian holidays.

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