Prescript : So, this is the rewriting of the Christmas story I wanted to write...
Have you ever asked how a Scandawegian legend involving pine trees and reindeer got spliced with a myth from the deserts of Africa ?
And how did we come to swallow such a massive conglomeration of intercontinental 'doodoo' - without any question ?
And then, it got repackaged, into the biggest commercial consumerfest the planet has ever seen (and nature, as we know it, may never recover from !) ??
But I digress again... back to this article.
Let's look at the fluffy cartoon character of Santa Claus - he's actually a very profound player in ancient shamanism...
Back in the days of old, information, physical healing, and conflict resolution was in the hands of a special person in each community. The 'medicine man' - as we might call him - was not only a herbalist, a good listener, and agony aunt.
He was the person sought to uncover the subtle roots of difficulties within the community, and required a particular kind of sensitivity to the human condition, the universe at large, and the 'spiritual' realms of existence - those that were beyond the agricultural understanding of the villagers.
We might, these days, associate this role within our own cultural history with concepts of wizardry - derived from the root words 'wise' and 'wisdom' - the domain of the wise. And of course their female counterpart - witches - and we all know what happened to wise women in history.
Incidentally, I use the male pronoun 'he' throughout this article, only because the focus is upon Santa - a clearly male character in our story - but as we'll see, it is a cultural bias, not a historical fact...
As a part of his training as a medicine man, the ritualised use of particular plants was commonplace, to develop and enhance that kind of consciousness - to journey into the underworld and come back with understandings that normal thinking cannot produce.
While this medicine man culture was the norm across the world, in Lapland (where much of our Xmas myth is drawn from), one of the most common plants to use for this was Amanita Muscaria - the Fly Agaric mushroom.
Notably, this big, broad-caped fungus is bright red, with white flecks...
Starting to feel the first connection ? Big, round, red and white - remind you of anyone ?
However, there are a couple of stages in the preparation of this mushroom, before it can be used, because it can be highly toxic under the wrong circumstances.
The first stage is to uproot them, and hang them to dry in the pine trees under which they grow.
A Xmas tree with brightly coloured balbals hanging in it ? You getting the scene ?
Once there were enough of them to make use of, they would be collected in a big sack and lugged back to their Yurt.
Most famed for the specifics of this practice are the Evenki - reindeer herders from Siberia.
The next stage is to feed them to your reindeer, as these animals have an uncanny ability to process the poisons, and then urinate out the psychotropic elements in an active and safe form.
The veneration of reindeer as players in this story becomes apparent.
And finally, once all is prepared, the shaman drinks the brew, and his journey starts...
To aid his journey to the outer realms, a fir tree brought into this yurt, tall enough to stick up through the roof. It is said that his spirit climbs up through the smokehole of the yurt, and he returns bearing the knowledge of his experience.
In other words, he comes down the chimney and lays the gifts of his journey under the tree.
These Evenki peoples live close to the North Pole, giving Santa his legendary home.
Looking up through the branches of his tree, at its peak would be the North Star - right at the top of the tree - imagine that !
So, we have a better picture of the event.
These original santas sum it up nicely...
And this is not the only legend from ancient times that include such references to mythic places and magical substances...
In fact, history, across the planet, is littered with them...
In Africa, we have legends of the Arabian Nights, involving travel on flying carpets - a ludicrous, Disney-like scene... until we understand that the red dye used in those carpets (the base colour for those rugs is always red) is made by soaking a root - Syrian Rue - which just happens to be a powerful neurotransmitter modulator - causing deep states of meditation, in which powerful realisations, physical healings & psychological enhancements are common place.
Plus the ritualised use of brews such Ayahuaska, Datura, Bobinsan, and Kambo from the Amazon, are still with us, and modern scientific research is seeing fundamental benefits to the their use. Our own homeland mushrooms are being clinically trailed as a major solution to depression and PTSD (far more successful and reliable than current pharmaceuticals), and there is the renaissance we are seeing in the sacred plants of North America, after their legalization in the US found them to be safe and beneficial.
And if you're a fan of the romantic poets (such as Coleridge, Crabbe, Quincey, etc), or indeed the intricacies of Sherlock Homes, you are inadvertently celebrating the brain-enhancing actions of Opium - so freely available across Asia and in cafes across Europe, until it's prohibition after WW1, ending the great 'binge years', in which you could send our boys in the trenches a hamper of Opium, syringes, Heroin, Cocaine, all available at the local chemist.
Of course, we sniff at such things these days, but whether we like it or not, these plants formed a massive part of our cultural history.
Everything from the literary classics, to Lewis Carol's blue caterpillar, sitting atop that Fly Agaric mushroom smoking his bong, all the way down to poor old Santa himself - who is the most celebrated, venerated and family-friendly of all the medicine carriers across history !
And that may be why he doesn't touch the sherry and mince pies we leave him !
He does like the singing though...