One of the most widely known and practiced modern traditions is the celebration of Christmas and Santa Claus. Though there are many cultural adaptations of this winter-time character, the origin of the most of the modern myth can be traced back to Siberia, where a small group of Shamans still practice the ritual to this day.
The Siberian Shamans who practice this religion set out to gather the mysterious fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, mushroom in the depths of winter. This mushroom is considered to be an entheogen and has long been used by cultures around the world for its visions and insights.
The Shamans begin collecting mushrooms in the high mountains in the early summer. As they make their way to the down the mountains, collecting different mushrooms that grow in different areas, they finally reach the end of the harvest with Amanita muscaria. This bright red mushroom emerges under or near conifer trees and it tends to fruit towards the end of the year. The Shamans revere the fly agaric mushroom as the final gift of the season.
The Shamans dress in ceremonial red robes lined with white fur. They set out in sleighs, pulled by reindeer. When they arrive at the sacred gathering grounds beneath the conifer trees, they begin collecting the Amanita muscaria, hanging them in the trees so as not to get lost in the snow. As the day wanes, they gather the mushrooms from the trees and put them in large bags on the back of the sleigh. The reindeer pull the sleigh back to their camp at dusk.
When they arrive, the dome-shaped hut they have built is covered with snow. They enter through the smoke hole in the roof as they have many times before. The Siberian lands are cold and frigid most of the year.
The Shamans unpack their bags, carefully placing each mushroom on a long string to dry by the fireplace. The room is filled with brightly colored garlands of drying mushrooms, strung in every corner of the home. The Shamans awake the next day and partake of the gifts of the fly agaric. They consume and vision, they dream and laugh and cry and feast on the riches of the inner world.
You can see the symbolism, passed down to a material generation. The gifts under the conifer tree and the shaman Santa coming down the chimney to deliver them. The stockings are hung by the chimney with care, the reindeer and the flying sleigh, it's all there.
Use your imagination to transform the material Christmas into the celebration of your inner spiritual shaman. Give the greatest gift that you have to the world, your presence.
Watercolor depiction of the fly agaric, 1892. Likely painted at an art class near Bristol, England, the writing says “Agaricus muscarius" and "Leigh woods Sept/92”
Illustration of a Siberian Evenki Shaman from Nicolaas Witsen's Noord en Oost Tartarye (1705)
Gnome transporting a fly agaric mushroom, from a German New Year's card (1900)