Father Christmas and Fly Agaric Folklore

Posted by Adam Biddle on

Father Christmas and Fly Agaric Folklore

Christmas is such a magical, nostalgic time of year and we’ve been enjoying meeting lots of our lovely customers and fellow makers at various Christmas pop-ups and getting into the festive spirit.

This year, I wanted to share some discoveries about the magical folklore surrounding Christmas; in particular, the possible role of the famous and highly toxic Fly Agaric mushroom. Growing up, I remember feeling slightly cheated hearing that the reason Father Christmas wore red was all because of Coca Cola, so I was delighted to hear about this alternative version! This enchanting red and white spotted toadstool from many a fairytale was commonly depicted in Victorian Christmas cards as a symbol of luck and its colours are thought to have been the real inspiration for Santa Claus' red and white suit.

However, similarities have also been drawn from the legend of Father Christmas and the Shamans from Siberia and the Sàmi people from the Arctic Circle, their lives closely entwined with herds of wild reindeer.  Shamans have used the Fly Agaric mushroom for thousands of years in their hallucinogenic rituals, the fly agaric would be placed in stockings over a fireplace where they could be dried for celebratory use and given as gifts at the winter solstice.  During the winter families would invite a Shaman to visit, they would arrive on a reindeer led sleigh and enter the yurt through the smoke hole (or chimney) and down the central pole, bringing with them a bag of dried fly agaric. The shaman would take the mushroom and go on a hallucinogenic journey gaining healing knowledge and advice from other realms to problem solve and help with concerns, a type of spiritual gift to be rewarded with offerings of food.

After the ceremonies, with a Ho Ho Ho, the shaman would exit the same way and ride off on a sleigh with several ‘flying’ reindeer who also have a taste for fly agaric and who would prance around in a mind-altered effect.  It is thought that through drying the mushrooms some of the toxicity is removed, however, please do not try this at home!  The reindeer eat these magical toadstools without harm, seeking them out from where they grow beneath certain types of conifer trees. Interestingly, Fly Agaric’s form a symbiotic relationship with the tree, transferring nutrients into their roots, which allows them to grow.   

A Merry Christmas

Let’s embrace Christmas not in terms of more things to stress about and more things to buy, but as a chance to reflect over the past year, taking time out from our busy lives to connect with our loved ones. And maybe we can make room for another story this year, one that includes magical mushrooms, shamans and ancient rituals?

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas filled with magic and wonder…ho ho ho!

Christmas Tree
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