What if everyone’s favourite Christmas character Santa Claus was a drug consuming shaman? And instead of gifts, he just brought wisdom and solutions to problems? Would he still be as popular as Western pop culture has made him?
According to a new theory by researchers like Paul Ruck and Lawrence Millman, the legend of Santa Clause, the rotund, florid, old man in a red suit who arrives from the North Pole in a sled pulled by reindeers, was indeed born out of ancient shamans that existed in the region between Finland and Sweden.
According to the researchers, Santa’s origins can be interpreted from Shamanic traditions followed by the Sami people indigenous to “Lapland". The area in present day contains bits of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia.
Ruck, a Boston University classicist who studies the use of psychoactive substances in religious and ancient cultural rituals, found that Sami shamans of Lapland consumed a type of psychoactive and highly toxic mushroom called Amanita muscaria. Eating the mushroom allegedly gave the shaman psychic abilities and he could thus connect to other supernatural realms to seek answers for problems humans sought his help in solving.
This is where things get interesting. It is said that among the Sami, there was a belief that those who consumed Amanita muscaria started to look like one. Meaning, they had red blotches, they were round and rotund.
Ruck and Millman posited that this image of the Shaman, who rode in on reindeer-pulled sledges and entered locals’ tents from the chimney, owning to blockage of front doors due to snow, may have provided the initial basis for the lore of Santa.
This wasn’t all, the shaman was paid in food for the good news he brought, much like Santa Claus is paid in milk and cookies for all the gifts he brings. The researchers feel that the “gifts" that ancient shamans brought were nore spiritual in nature rather than materialistic.
According to Lawrence, this is the problem with Christmas today. The festival, which should have been about love and spirituality, has become marred by capitalism and materialism. For many, Christmas as well as Santa Claus are just symbolic of Christmas presents. But delving into human folklore and mythology can often provide deeper insights into human traditions and may even end up enriching our experience of the same in the present time.