Is Santa a psychedelic mushroom?

Friends, eh? Where would we be without them? They’re our portals to new thoughts, new ideas, new stories. What one finds interesting enough to repost and share, another might dismiss as irrelevant. But in that sharing, in that reposting, there is occasionally something fascinating to be learned. 

The inimitable IZ sent me three links as bedtime watching. Usually, I’d pass them by without opening unless they’d included a specific reason to watch. I don’t watch stuff on my phone. I’m not a massive fan of YouTube. And what little time I want to while away online has been bought and paid for by Facebook.  Fast forward a few days and I’m online cleaning out my inbox, something I get great satisfaction from doing. As I hovered over the delete button, I hesitated. Luckily curiosity got the better of me because now I have a whole new story about where Santa Claus comes from.

I know the usual story. My version of Santa Claus is based on St Nicholas, who, alive and well in the fourth century, had a thing about giving. In the Netherlands, they call him Sinterklass. And he comes not on Christmas Eve but on December 6, just like he does in Hungary. Dutch emigrants to North America took Sinterklass with them and while I’m not sure why the dates moved from the 6th to the 24th, he’s still on the job.
But Matthew Salton has another story – one that involves a magic mushroom. And he’s not tripping. In this short film, he draws from the wisdom of a Harvard professor, an anthropologist, and a mythologist who reckon that Santa as we know him was a shaman, not a saint.

The magic mushroom Amanita muscaria is a red-and-white toadstool. Santa has a red-and-white suit. The Sami people of Lapland prepared their houses every year for a  visit from the shamans around the winter solstice. We do the same – the house preparation thing. When the shaman arrived on their reindeer-drawn sled, they’d sometimes find the houses so snowed that the doors wouldn’t open; they’d have to climb down the chimney instead. All good so far.
This is the bit I really like –  instead of bringing presents, the shaman would eat the magic mushroom and in their altered state bring gifts of healing and problem-solving. How wonderful would that be? To have Santa fix those aching bones and wrap up some introspection that would give me insights into how to solve my problems.

As a caveat, according to Emily Buder writing for The Atlantic,

Although Salton himself harbors a healthy skepticism about the shamanistic origins of Santa, he believes the inquiry has its own merit. “In my opinion, the connections can’t all be 100 percent true, but they’re surprising and fun to think about,” he said. “My understanding is that most academics who approach the subject do so as a fun exercise and not something to be taken too seriously. That said, I think many would agree it’s important to question and take a deeper look into our shared folklore. Santa consists of an amalgamation of many ideas, traditions, and imagery. My film focuses on just one aspect.”

If you didn’t click on the link to watch the short film, you won’t have seen the bit about urine and how reindeer fly. See what you missed?

Whatever version of Santa you believe in, I hope you get what you’ve been wishing for this Christmas. And if not, remember that some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.


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  1. […] more recent discovery, Mathew Salton’s short film Santa is a psychedelic mushroom, is one I will be adding to my Christmas watchlist for years to come. In it, he recounts a story […]

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