The Shape-Shifting Shaman That Originated The Legend Of Santa Claus

December 20, 2017

|Sairy Romero

The familiarity of that story about an old man that always wears a red suit is the only thing preventing us from noticing how weird it is.

We're so familiar with some stories that we don’t always take the time to analyze them, especially when they're so widely accepted. Why do those specific stories stick in our society? Is it because of their quality? Or is it due to overwhelming advertising and repetition? The most popular story we’re told since childhood is the one about the fat, bearded man that we call Santa Claus. The familiarity with that story about an old man wearing a red suit is the only thing preventing us from noticing how weird it is. When we’re children, we barely ask any questions about it because we’re too distracted by the gifts, which we only received because that man spied on us throughout the year and decided that we behaved well based on some dubious morality. How and why does he get to decide what’s good and bad? Isn’t the very act of stalking little kids a bad thing? It’s more than a bit creepy. However, millions of adults around the world decide that it’s a perfectly nice story to tell their children.


 

Who came up with a story like that? Probably not a single person, because every myth is a collective effort. Still, it must have some kind of origin or a mix of multiple origins. There’s the one about a saint from the Roman Empire who loved to give gifts, and the "official" one about the Coca-Cola ad from the 1930s. The one I find truly interesting comes from Siberia. I don’t want to ruin your Christmas spirit, but according to their legends, the original Santa Claus was a shaman who loved getting high on mushrooms.

 

The indigenous people from that area, specifically the Evenki, were a shamanic community. A big part of their culture involved spiritual and ceremonial practices around Amanita muscaria, the bright red mushroom that is frequently depicted in popular culture. People from that community recognized the sacred value and powerful qualities of the psychoactive mushrooms, and they followed the method of harvest to eliminate the mushroom’s toxicity and enjoy a safe psychedelic trip, a spiritual experience for them.


 

The first part of this process of harvest was searching for and picking the mushrooms from the bottom of trees, placing them on the branches and waiting for them to dry. For the second part, the shaman had the job of collecting them all, storing them in a sack, and delivering the mushroom to each home. This is very familiar, right? The trees with bright red mushrooms all over them, the sack full of gifs, the delivery… Do you think the connection is still too far-fetched? Tthe Evenki people often used reindeers for transportation, so the shaman also delivered the mushrooms on a sleigh pulled by reindeers. Moreover, their homes were yurts, a construction that includes a hole on the top to let the smoke out, which the shaman would use to enter the house whenever the snow covered the entrance.


 

The resemblance between the traditions of the Evenki and the Christmas tradition is remarkable. Of course, nowadays the gifts aren't powerful drugs that cause visions and a profound connection with nature. Perhaps some people might complain about the fact that this story isn't as widespread as that of the Saint and the 1930s ad. However, I also believe many others would complain about the fact that the most interesting part (the mushroom delivery) didn't that pass the test of time.



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Sairy Romero

Sairy Romero


Creative writer
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