How a Psychoactive Mushroom Influenced the Story of Santa Claus

Jillian Jastrzembski

The amanita muscaria is the beautiful red and white mushroom that stars in fairy tale illustrations and videogames. It’s also highly poisonous, psychotropic, and – unlike psilocybin species – 100% legal.

Isn’t it interesting that such a powerful yet deadly mushroom is so open-access?

The amanita mushroom is hiding in plain sight. In fact, you are most likely paying homage to it every year at Christmas time. Scholars of mycology and anthropology believe that the amanita muscaria has had an influence on many of our Christmas traditions, most notably the story of Santa Claus.

Depending on your feelings about psychotropic drugs, you may either find this idea captivating or a bit disconcerting. But if you care to delve deeper, you might find that the amanita muscaria isn’t at all at odds with holiday values.

So how exactly did the amanita muscaria influence the story of Santa Claus at Christmas time?

How the Amanita Mushroom Influenced Santa Claus

Like most Christmas stories, this one starts at the North Pole – or close to it, anyway. For the ancient communities of the Artic circle, December marked the celebration of the winter solstice.

This was long before Christmas was invented, but you might find that some of their ancient traditions are strikingly familiar anyway. In many ways, Christmas is actually a rebranding of the winter solstice and the Pagan celebrations that occurred around this time.

Although the birth date of Jesus is unknown, the Bible according to Luke suggests that it was probably in spring or summer, since the shepherds were guarding the sheep in the fields. In the winter, the sheep would have been kept in corrals. In any case, Jesus’s birthday was not celebrated until hundreds of years after the actual birth of Christ – and even then, it was met with lots of resistance.

Meanwhile, in Lapland and Siberia, shamans played a central role in the winter solstice festivities. A shaman is a spiritual healer who is thought to have access to higher states of consciousness. That access was often granted to the shaman via the psychotropic mushroom which we know as amanita muscaria.

These beautiful red mushrooms with white speckles are found growing beneath trees in their native habitat, just like a Christmas gift. These striking mushrooms would have caught the attention of ancient people long before the rather drab looking psilocybin species, which we know as psychedelic or magic mushrooms.

The amanita muscaria are different from psychedelic mushrooms, not only in appearance, but also in bioactivity and ultimately their effect. Psychedelic mushrooms contain psilocybin, which is converted to psilocin, which interacts with serotonin receptors of the brain. The amanita muscaria contains a bioactive compound called muscimol, which interacts with GABA receptors. GABA is an important neurotransmitter, so the amanita muscaria has powerful effects – though they are quite different from psychedelic drugs like psilocybin.

But the raw amanita muscaria are poisonous, even to spiritual guides like shamans. Reportedly, one way around this was to hang the white-speckled crimson mushrooms from pine trees to dry. Just like red baubles on a Christmas tree.

Supposedly, another option was to hang the amanita mushroom in socks by the fire. Just like the “stockings hung by the chimney with care,” described in the famous poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas.

The amanita muscaria themselves look a bit like Santa Claus in his red coat and hat with white trimmings. In fact, the shaman was even said to dress up like the amanita mushroom. Just like the Santa Claus we know and love today.

You know what else is native to Lapland? Reindeer. No, they don’t fly, but they might appear to if you’ve consumed amanita muscaria. In some versions, the reindeer were also said to partake in the consumption of the mushrooms. Consuming the urine of the intoxicated reindeer was one way to get the psychotropic effects of the mushrooms without the toxicity.

The shamans of the Artic would visit each household during the solstice to deliver gifts. But if the entryway was snowed in, he would have to lower himself through the roof. The gifts themselves were not material gifts, but gifts of wisdom and healing. The shaman would share the spiritual insights he gained during his mushroom trip. He might also share the mushrooms themselves. In that sense, the “Santa'' of the shamanic variety was perhaps a truer representation of what nowadays we like to call the true spirit of Christmas.

It almost fits too perfectly – can this really be the true origin story of Santa Claus?

Other Influences of Santa Claus

The story of the shamanic Santa Claus is an enticing one. Like most of our favorite Christmas stories, there is some truth to it. But it does not single-handedly explain the origin of Santa Claus.

For example, in Germanic and Nordic myths, there were gods who traveled during the winter solstice in a sleigh pulled by an eight-legged horse. And let us not forget the real live bishop called Saint Nicholas of Bari, who gave rise to the mythical figure Sinterklaas. All of these mythical figures were melded together over the years as the various cultures influenced each other’s traditions.

A full-fledged modern Santa Claus was finally born in the form of the beloved 1822 poem, A Visit from Saint Nicholas (better known as ‘Twas the night before Christmas), which is usually attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. A 1931 Coca-Cola advertisement put the final seal on the image.

Why the Amanita Matters

While the shamanic origins of Santa Claus are probably true to an extent, it’s likely the story has been exaggerated. Like most Christmas stories, at the end of the day it is just that: a story.

The stories that get exaggerated and retold are the ones that are meaningful to us. Like the grinch who stole Christmas, and the reindeer with a glowing nose, the shamanic Santa Claus has gained traction because something about the idea resonates with people.

This version of the Santa Claus myth is not about material gifts. It’s about the gift of wisdom and healing. The emphasis is on a spiritual aspect of the holiday, rather than a materialistic one.

The holiday season may or may not have religious meaning for you. After all, it has non-religious origins, and is universally acknowledged even in non-Christian communities. In fact, in 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant passed a law recognizing Christmas as a civil holiday.

Regardless of your relationship with Christmas, whether or not you are religious, this myth captures a universally relatable holiday theme that we keep coming back to. It’s a theme that repeats itself in the Christmas tales we hear every year at this time.

Studies have shown that people who emphasize family and spirituality – religious or otherwise - during the holiday season experience better emotional well-being compared to those who emphasize materialism. Perhaps the story of the shamanic Santa Claus speaks to us because it highlights the true spirit of Christmas.

Celebrating the Shamanistic Origins of Santa Claus

One classical way to get the psychotropic effects of the amanita muscaria without the poisonous effects was to drink the urine of someone who had consumed the amanita muscaria. In some reports, people would drink the urine of the shamans. In other versions, the shaman would drink the urine of reindeer. The reindeer were said to be immune to the poisonous effects of the mushrooms – though they still experienced the psychotropic effects.

The most authentic way to celebrate the shamanic origins of Santa Claus is to feed amanita muscaria to a reindeer and drink the urine. If reindeer are scarce or if drinking urine doesn’t appeal to you, you can try ordering amanita muscaria gummies here. They’ve already been processed so they won’t be poisonous – but you’ll still get the psychotropic effects. Also, they’re delicious.

You might consider that the amanita muscaria aren’t just a drug to be taken when you’re bored, but a way to make a spiritual connection and honor an ancient tradition.

Consuming amanita muscaria is not the only way to honor an ancient tradition. Just as Santa Claus is more of a symbol than an actual person, the amanita muscaria is a kind of symbol as well. It’s something to keep in mind as you decorate the Christmas tree with ornaments, as you hang stockings by the fireplace, and as you spend time with family and friends this holiday.

We wish you a very merry and amanita-infused holiday – literally or figuratively. As always if you have any questions about our products, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

How a Psychoactive Mushroom Influenced the Story of Santa Claus
Did you know you are paying homage to amanita muscaria every year at Christmas time? It has had an influence on many of our Christmas traditions, mainly Santa.
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How a Psychoactive Mushroom Influenced the Story of Santa Claus
December 15, 2023