Just about everywhere now Santa’s clothes are red with white fur trimmings. And how come he uses reindeer, an animal probably not familiar to the original American and British artists who drew him, and why is he supposed to live in snowy lands to the north, for most children?
Well, strangely enough there is a genuine religious connection with all of the above, a connection which is more than 4000 years old.
In just about every human tribe for millennia there have been and are men and women apparently gifted above others with the ability to contact wider realms of consciousness than the ordinary folk. We know them as Shaman and Shamanka. These people would go into altered states known as trances and answer questions, like the oracles of Ancient Greece, or go on soul retrieval missions, often quite dangerous ones, to investigate the cause of the sickness of a tribal member and bring about a cure, by discovering cause instead of dealing with symptoms.
People who could do these things were often extremely right brain oriented and not infrequently different from others in their sexual orientation. They could see and hear and feel messages that the senses of the ‘normal’ person were not able to sense.
We have no difficulty in understanding that musical geniuses like Mozart and Bach had access to different audio perceptions from ordinary folk, and that Monet and Rembrandt would see things that others couldn’t. But it is very difficult for mundanes to even consider that quite ordinary seeming people have a much wider range of sensations available to them than the norm. Such gifted people are likely to find themselves surrounded by white coated, left brained professionals giving them shock treatment to make them ‘normal.’
In very recent times, people like Aldous Huxley who wrote The Doors of Perception, and the Elder of many creeds, Huston Smith whose Religions of Man has been used everywhere in colleges, have experimented with various ways to try to access the consciousness and experience of spiritual visions of such gifted people.
Huxley and Smith, eminently left brained intellectuals, were very poor visualizers, and cognited that their problem may be in the area of the brain that monitored what messages were allowed to the perception apparatus. Without claiming their intellectual eminence the same thing was true of my own inner world for decades. At least we shared the same problem, if not similar abilities.
Both of them knew Dr.Timothy Leary, the Harvard expert on using psychedelic drugs to induce expanded states of consciousness and changes in behavior. It was Leary’s experiments on prison populations that showed that using drugs such as LSD under controlled conditions gave the prisoners an awareness of the previously unperceived beauty of the world that totally changed their behavior.
It was found that 86% of Leary’s patients did NOT return to prison after their release. Their whole world was changed. The chemicals Leary used were often those actually produced by the brain under some circumstances. Prisoners without Leary's help usually had over 80% of them return to prison after their release.
Both Houston Smith and Aldous Huxley broke through into a vastly expanded and unified consciousness using psychedelic drugs under controlled conditions at Harvard University. They used the non-addictive mescaline derived from the peyote cactus. Houston Smith realized that much of the visionary material of spiritual literature reported visions identical to those induced by doses of chemicals that the brain sometimes produced normally.
Many Eastern religious practices, if continued for years, rearranged the body chemistry to enable such visions and insights. Houston wrote “Opening the Doors of Perception” about his experiences, when he was an old man and beyond reflex criticism.
He had meditated faithfully for twenty years without a single vision of the type that otherwise ordinary people often experience. When he took psychedelics he realized what everyone else had been talking about. Aldous Huxley had the same experience. His universe was immediately and permanently extended. He had his wife give him LSD when he was dying.
Timothy Leary’s research work fell afoul of the bureaucracies, he was obviously too successful with the prisoners. It is an official truism that bad folks remain bad folks, so he was framed by the police who planted a couple of marijuana cigarettes on him and he got years in jail. For his first offence he was sentenced to 30 years. At one point the oh so honorable President Nixon called him the most dangerous man in the world. Liberty and justice for all anyone?
Opening people’s eyes is always dangerous to the authorities as we know. His story is well worth reading and he has inspired many very bright and aware people, such as Robert Anton Wilson who wrote the Cosmic Trigger series, to take the red pill of the Matrix movie, in the form of mescaline, psilocybin, LSD, DMT or one of many others, and see the world as it actually is, or at least many other worlds that are available using the human brain.
Now what has any of this got to do with Santa and his reindeers? Well, there aren’t many areas of the world today where shamans work as they did centuries ago. And one of them is Lapland, which we will look at in a moment. It may have occurred to you that Santa is often very flushed and bellowing nonsense syllables like Ho, Ho, Ho. Even on the Coke ads it looked like he had been drinking something stronger than Coca Cola, and shamans all over the world used something to expand their consciousness, not cloud it as alcohol does. And what they used depended on their amazing knowledge of the local plants and animals.
So, to connect Santa and his reindeer friends with shamans, even hypothetically we need to find shamans who are familiar with reindeer, and snow, and consciousness expanding substances.. And when we look, above the Arctic Circle, across northern Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia, areas known as Lapland, there are still shamans, and have been for centuries. The tribes of Lapland were keepers of herds of reindeer, obviously often surrounded by snow and totally without alcohol as a stimulant or social drug, until very recently vodka was introduced as a civilizing agent. Yeast needs warmth to do its job in changing sugars to alcohol. Warmth was in short supply above the Arctic circle.
But traveler’s tales of Siberia for several hundred years have commented on the social and religious uses of a bright red and white mushroom, frequently found around birch trees. Remember my comment about birch twigs, and the important place birch holds in Celtic magick. The common name of the mushroom is fly agaric. The Latin name is Amanita muscaria. Both the people and the animals in those far north areas eat the mushroom.
Let’s look at how it is used by shamans in Lapland. It is a mirror of the way it has been used in many other places. We all probably have some of these procedures embedded in the far memory of our DNA. As one of my Wiccan priest friends said to a bunch of very conservative Rotarians…”Everybody in this room has pagan ancestors.” They were all shocked as this obvious but never previously accessed thought sank in. Let’s check back to our ancestral mushrooms.
Many cultures have stories of how fly agaric came to be. In one of them Oðin, one of the cultural ancestors of Saint Nicholas, was riding his eight legged horse Sleipnir when some really bad demons began to chase after him. As Sleipnir went into full gallop the blood flecked foam that fell from his mouth became the bright red and white mushrooms that give an experience of the god if used properly. Nowadays the Sunday people drink his blood and eat his body to achieve an elevation of consciousness, usually not so effectively and predictably.
The mushroom was usually dried by shamans before being used. Experience showed that the harmful effects were cut back considerably by drying and the vision forming effects were somewhat enhanced.
Modern chemistry validates the shaman’s experience. The major psycho-chemicals in the agaric are ibotenic acid and muscimol with smaller amounts of muscarine and bufotenine. Muscarine causes twitching muscles and can be dangerous. Bufotenine is a chemical found in the skin glands of some toads. It’s used in making mixtures of materials that produce hallucinations, as they are called by those who don't have them. By heating or drying the agaric the ibotenic acid is transformed into muscimol which is the chemical that produces the religious effects. It is very important in understanding these matters to realize that muscimol passes into the urine pretty much unaltered. Some of you probably know that various medicine men and shaman often take the heavy dose themselves, because they are accustomed to it and then the student shaman drinks the urine of the teacher and receives in effect a purified and slightly less potent custom made dose. The muscarine is broken down by the kidneys of the teacher and the student gets a safer dose. People under the influence of the purified muscimol are said to be pissed, a possible source of our own slang for being drunk with the much more dangerous, politically OK and addictive alcohol.
I know some Norwegians who use psychedelic drugs at their parties, in Norway of course, during the long and miserable winters. They take their controlled dosage stuff and then drink their own urine again and again to keep the adventure going. They are yuppies, not shamans. It’s their recreational drug of choice.
Reindeer eat the fly agaric too without drying it first. And they become intoxicated. Several hunting stories involve some hunters killing a reindeer that was staggering around, drunk on agaric, and probably having amazing reindeer visions of Rudolph. They cooked the meat and ate it, and became suitably stoned themselves. What is in the animal enters the eater of the animal.
Many men nowadays are developing breasts because of the hormones in the chicken that is in the cheaper meals at their restaurants. A group of Arctic hunters ate the liver of a polar bear and died of Vitamin A poisoning. The liver of the bear contained many hundreds of thousands of units of the vitamin, concentrated naturally from the seals eaten by the bear, who concentrated it themselves from the fish eaten by the seals. The bear liver was designed to deal with that level of A, the men weren’t.
The pharmaceutical companies gave the story to doctors, without the explanation, and doctors would warn their patients seriously about the dangers of overdosing on vitamin A. They never mentioned that you would have to take several hundred thousand units a day for weeks before any major problems occurred.
Back to reindeer who are known to look for places where men have urinated in the snow. The yellow patches really get their attention. Some think it is the salt taste. Whatever it is they love it. Reindeer hunters too often use the smell of dried agaric as a magnet to draw hidden reindeer into the area.
These are connecting dot trifles whose importance arrives later. Now let’s see how a Lapland shaman actually uses the mushroom for ritual and healing purposes.
When someone in the tribe was sick or injured it was the shaman’s job to heal them. And no excuses. To do this he had to access data from a larger universe than the mundane. He would take the agaric in a way that experiments showed to be effective, and he would trance out. While this was happening his student would be beating drum rhythms that varied according to the journey that the spirit of the shaman was about to make. Often the shaman would feel that he was flying into a wider universe on his journey to the gods.
Now the winter dwelling of these nomads was not the familiar yurt of summer, which was a sturdy tent. It was a more permanent type of dwelling in which a fire could be kept burning. There was only one opening, so the door and the chimney were the same opening.
Early Siberian poetry explains how people wrote or drew messages to the gods and then burned them so that they left the hut and ascended to the gods. British children used to write letters to Santa and leave them inside the chimney on the first shelf.
So the shaman would leave and return via the chimney. When I was a boy in Britain there was a widespread working class superstition that the luckiest person to have come across the threshold on New Year’s Day was a black man. My landlord then was a chimney sweep and he made quite a bit for himself by going round the neighborhood early on New Year’s Day. Sweeps were considered lucky for very ancient and forgotten shamanic reasons. Having them cross your threshold was called First Footing, and worth a few pennies and a drink. That was in the 1930's, hardly prehistory.
Now, in Chicago and the surrounding area it is pretty easy to see how people miss the sun during the winter months. We even have a name for it…SAD, seasonal affective disorder. Well consider how much more that would be true north of the Arctic Circle on days when you might see the sun for only an hour.
The darkest time would be around our Christmas, and that’s when people would need to be cured of a sometimes suicidal depression. This would be the time when fly agaric would be widely used, recreationally and ritually. The shaman would arrive via the chimney,wearing furs and possibly reindeer horns. He would ‘fly’ to the heavens using agaric as the key to the inner door, and return with his gifts of healing.
Today in Europe, particularly in Germany, the fly agaric is a Christmas ornament and often on the cards. You will often see white birch trees on cards too. Our Christmas cards were of a snowy birch forest. The birch is the tree around which fly agaric is often found. It is worth mentioning again that it is also the first tree that grows back after forest fires. In the Celtic Ogham alphabet of trees, used by Celtic magicians, the birch is the first, the leader of the trees. It has always been important to magicians everywhere. Its mushroom companions are one of the reasons.
Professor Moore, if he wrote the Santa poem, would quite likely have known about the Lapland agaric customs because of his interest in European folkways of the far north. It isn’t likely that the reindeer in the poem came from personal experience. The only things that look a bit like reindeer on this continent are caribou, and the tribes here that herd caribou use dogs to pull their sleighs.
But a few decades after the poem a man named Mordecai Cook wrote a popular book called A Plain and Easy Account of British Fungi. That was in 1862, and he mentioned some of the effects on the vision centers of Fly Agaric. His example was about a straw placed on the floor which seemed so large to the person under the influence that he made a jump over it that would have cleared a barrel. Sometimes the opposite occurs too.
And so we come to Alice. Charles Dodgson read a review of that book and in the same year began writing what became Alice in Wonderland. Remember the scene between Alice and the caterpillar on the mushroom. The caterpillar was blue, rather unusual, and smoking a hookah, even more unusual. The Victorians used to smoke opium as a recreational drug of choice. The mushroom was as tall as Alice, or she was as small as the mushroom. Alice told the caterpillar that she wanted to be a bit larger. He told her that eating one side of the mushroom would make her smaller and the other would make her taller. So she experimented until she became the size she wanted.
Dodgson told his publisher that the only possible color for the cover of his book was bright red. It may be another coincidence that the only trip that Dodgson took out of Britain was to Russia.
So the dreamlike state of Alice’s adventures, the size changes, and the ancient roots of Santa’s colors, vehicle and chimney addictions may well be due to ancient religious ways of seeking the god experience.
The clincher comes from India. The Rig Vedas are the oldest scriptures in the world. and there are hundreds of verses about the plant that is a god called Soma. People taking this plant became immortal. They went beyond the normal concepts of time and space and acquired amazing insights into things as they really are. The most revered of the Ancient Hindu gods lived in this plant called Soma, and when the priests drank a drink made of the plant they ingested the god and his consciousness of immortality.
Somewhere along the way of thousands of years the identity of the plant was lost, and dozens of possibilities have been suggested by people anxious to solve the riddle. The person who eventually did it was not a professional scholar. He didn’t even go to college. He was a banker named R. Gordon Wasson. He retired with enough money to support his hobby which was the study of mushrooms.
He knew about the Vedas and Soma and hired a professional Sanskrit scholar to translate them for him. And he picked up on every description and metaphor about the mystery plant in hundreds of cryptic verses, and nailed it down to Amanita muscaria. It has ‘no leaves or branches’ and can be ‘red by day and white by night,’ and other clues are sprinkled through the ancient text. But the one that the scholars couldn’t even begin to understand was translated thus “Full-bellied, the priests piss the sacred Soma”
That won’t be a mystery to you now, but scholars are often specialists who know nothing about other fields and cannot see what an enthusiastic and knowledgeable generalist can see. No amount of knowledge about Sanskrit grammar would help if the scholar didn’t know about shamans and their ways with students.
Around 7000 feet in India there are birch trees and around the birch trees grows fly agaric. We know that Indian yogis and other spiritual warriors often live in caves up in the mountains. Maybe this is one reason.
Nowadays the research is focusing on mushrooms of course and other fungi, but also on chemicals that the incredible pharmacy of the brain can make by putting together molecules like Lego pieces using enzymes as assembly tools. The drug of choice at the moment is DMT. This non-addictive substance gives god experiences very much like those described in the Bible and other literature.
The light and brilliance are similar to those described in the posting “We Create our own Reality” on 11/29/06. The lights seen by people with near death experiences may be produced by the DMT that the pineal excretes in large amounts just before the death of the body. People like Jesus and Moses and William Blake may have been like they were because of the ability of their pineals to produce surplus DMT while they were living.
Timothy Leary created an amazing theory about the eight brain centers in everyone. Four of them deal with this mundane world and the others are to be triggered into activity during future evolutionary changes, some of them away from this planet. NASA uses one of these off planet drugs to help astronauts endure being the center of the universe when they space walk. With no up or down, no gravity, and all normal coordinates not functioning the ‘off the planet’ help from the drug enables astronauts to stay sane.
Apparently some psychedelics do trigger these other four centers and the person concerned experiences the consciousness of himself blueprinted for many levels higher in the evolutionary scale. The evolutionary state of the pineal gland, the third eye of the yogis may be the ladder to the divine. And it may be the clue to what the Mayans are saying about the end of the year 2011.
So dear old Santa may come from a race memory. Our stories always come from inner data, conscious or not. The Christmas gifts which are now mainly electronic gadgets for the overstimulated may have once been data from a higher consciousness, and still available to those who look in the right place, inside.
Don't go rushing out to buy some of the drugs I mentioned. As soon as the bureaucrats realized that people who used them were out of their control the drugs were made illegal, here at least. The CIA can use them of course but not honest people.
The only one being allowed, grudgingly by the FDA is psilocybin, another mushroom derivative. This is being allowed, in small doses to help counteract the pain of certain types of cancer. And peyote is allowed if you are in the correctly registered Native American religion.
Otherwise you just have to make your own, the old way, by spiritual exercises. But at least you now know that your brain can do it. That's a great help. Bruce Lipton in his book “The Biology of Belief” relates how a very knowledgeable researcher in brain chemistry cured a group of drug addicts by educating them in a concept new to them. You may know that Carl Jung, and adviser to Bill Williams of the Big Book of the AA folks, was of the opinion that all addictions were due to a spiritual quest. The addicted one had become convinced that what was here was not all there is and was looking for something else via the chemicals.
The brain researcher pointed out to the addicts that their own brains were capable of making the very same, or very similar chemicals that produced the same results as they sought, but without unpleasant or dangerous side effects. Legitimate pleasure without the pain. As soon as they became convinced of the science they were able, with practice to give up their drugs but not the pleasurable part of their experience. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind gargoyle.
Happy Christmas anyway, with or without the sacred mushroom. Maybe in the far future the not currently well known fact that Santa was pushing a drink that in the beginning actually did have an addictive drug as part of the recipe will be blended into yet another story. Then it was good business to collect a totally captive market. Nowadays they use repetition on TV. But for 2007 I’ll go next into the latest addition to the myth, Rudolph the Red Nosed Ninth Reindeer and see if we can get him into a more sacred context.