Shaman Claus: The Secret Psychedelic Roots of The Santa mythos

Yule, yellow snow, psychedelic mushrooms and the true meaning of Christmas

Originally published in two parts for Gifts From Earth on December 30, 2015 Philip]

Boy, the Holidays just aren’t what they used to be. What happened to those old holiday traditions that brought the community together like stringing popcorn on the tree or singing carols through the neighborhood or recycling your amanitas infused urine for the community to enjoy for the Solstice celebration. Yes, that’s right, our current “Santa Mythology” is steeped in some strange lore that we’ll begin to explore in this story.

Shaman Claus

The origins of both medicine and religion have some similar roots. Many of them reach thousands of years back to Tengerian tradition of Shamanic myth, magic and medicine. The Tengerian Shamanic tradition of Siberia was also influential on the traditional Christmas celebration and the Santa Claus mythos connected to it, as we’ll see today.

Among these cultures are the northern Tungusic people, Lapps, Evenki and other Siberian tribes.  The Evenki were predominantly hunter-gatherers and reindeer herders as were most living in the harsh region. The Evenki people’s word “saman” meaning “one who knows the spirits” is the root of the word describing the “medicine man” type religious healer in pre-modern cultures.  An important part of the religious and healing ceremonies of the Tengerian Shamanic medicine man was the use of “fly agaric” the Amanitas muscaria mushroom, better known colloquially as a “red-cap” or “toadstool.”

If you’ve seen pictures of giant red warty mushrooms in fairy tale drawings or little white spotted mushrooms in Byzantine art featuring Jesus then you’ve seen the amanitas mushroom. Interestingly enough, it’s not called a toadstool because toads are known to sit on it, rather because of a constituent that also happens to be found in “eyes of newts”(or Bufo Alvarius, the Sonoran Desert Toad) and other witchy sounding formulas.

Santa Claus (with his reindeer and red cap and stockings) is ” a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world,” according to Dr. John Rush,  anthropology instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif.

In order to prepare the amanitas mushroom (which can be a potent toxin) the mushrooms were placed in a large sock and hung over the hearth to dry. Stockings, anyone? The “gift of the mushroom” was often found beneath pine trees. This could also be an explanation for the “red, white and green” colors being associated with Christmas celebrations. The Shaman himself, when giving the gift of muscaria throughout the frozen Siberian Winter Solstice would appear dressed as a giant amanitas (with a red cap and white dots on his suit).

Even today in Lappland (a portion of Finland inhabited by the indigenous Sami people) diminutive reindeer herders wear brightly Christmas colored clothing and herd reindeers. That “elf” style hat, has a name you know. Yes, it’s a “Lapplander hat.”

Lapplanders in traditional garb

Stay tuned next as we explain why the reindeer games were really gross, how modern civilization may not have existed if some brave souls hadn’t eaten the yellow snow and why we put a star on an evergreen and bring it in the house once a year.

 In part I of this article, we started exploring the shamanic roots of the Santa Claus legend and how it ties in to the Northern European, Siberian and Arctic circle tribes such as the Sami and Evenki. The Sami, also known as Laplanders, are a nomadic Finnish tribe who just happen to wear brightly colored elf-style clothing and pointy hats when they’re not herding, you guessed it, reindeer, are responsible for a lot of the original Yule celebratory rituals that bled into the Christmas tradition that took place right around the same Solstice period.

To understand the importance of these Yule rites, you have to consider the harsh conditions in Siberia and Arctic Finland. This is the land of the midnight Sun. The (quite literal) dark side of the midnight sun is the end of Autumn, the shortest day of the year is Winter Solstice and around this time the sun nearly disappears almost entirely for that shortest and darkest day of the Solstice that marks the beginning of the Yule celebration.

As we mentioned in the last story, long  before the story of the Magi giving gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the Yule-tide season was known in these cold, dark areas as a time of celebration and gift giving. The gift in question was generally the amanitas muscaria mushroom. The redcap fungus with the distinctive white spots were known as the “fruit” of the evergreens and firs they were often found under. Mystified by the mycelial network forming without any apparent seeds being dropped, this phenomenon was occasionally referred to as a “virgin birth.”

Now we already showed how the traditional Santa legend was heavily shaped by Shamanic tradition, right down to drying the amanitas muscaria mushrooms in a large stocking over the hearth and bringing evergreens indoors to fend off the cold and dark. Imagine now, it’s another cold Finnic or Siberian winter in pre-history. You’re cold and the longest days only last for a few hours of dim, blue light here this close to the Solstice. All of a sudden you see what looks like a giant red cap mushroom heading towards you on a reindeer, chortling in the sheer ecstasy (ex- stasis, meaning to literally come “outside” of one’s self) of shamanic delirium. He hands you a stocking full of fire dried red cap mushrooms in a stocking. Considering the high likelihood of seasonal affective depression being exacerbated by the harsh Arctic condition, the idea of Yuletide gift giving was helpful for getting through the harsh winters.

The “gift” of the amanitas was generally discovered under certain varietals of evergreens (yes, the same sorts of pine and first that many of us still haul into the house at the end of the year) echoing the “Yule log” rite which purportedly staved away the frosty, near perma-darkness of the darkest point in the year in the land of the Midnight Sun.

Prancing and dancing reindeer? Yeah, we got those. In fact there’s a possibility that discovery of the filtration of the amanitas toxins through urine was an important part of the tradition. Reindeer and tribesmen alike would share in a mug of “recycled” amanitas. Which gives a whole new meaning to the old saying about the “yellow snow.”

The Arctic reindeer herding tribes who used amanitas noticed that the reindeers enjoyed chewing the fungal “fruit” of the evergreens after which they got “frisky” and seemed to dance and prance around for a while. This coupled with the fact that amanitas hallucinations often involve delusions of flying and size distortion makes a lot of the rest of the seeming non sequiturs in our Holiday tradition make a little more sense.

So, elf clothing, reindeer, red caps with white puffballs, gift giving, taking trees indoors and stockings full of gifts, eh? Yes, it’s beginning to sound a lot like Christmas, isn’t it? Stay tuned as we continue our exploration into the ethnobotanical roots of the traditional Christmas celebration soon. In our next story we’ll cover more parallels and connections between the pre-Christian pagan Solstice traditions and the more modern holiday traditions that occurred as a result.

A Brief History of the War on Kratom

A few months ago, I noticed a disturbing uptick in kratom scare stories and suggested a new push to ban the plant may soon be underway. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case. Despite bipartisan support in both houses of Congress urging the US to speak to the UN, “industry pressure” is resulting in an attempt to pressure the WHO into banning the plant worldwide. It’s important to see what role friends of the opiate industry like former FDA head and member of multiple pharma boards Stephen Gottlieb have to do with this sudden push as well as to hear what respected scientists from organizations like the National Institute on Drug Abuse have to say about the “junk science” FDA relies on to demonize the plant.

Big thanks to goes to Philippines Kratom for the use of the image. That is some of the kratom that they are growing along with other amazing ethnobotanicals in the southernmost island of the Philippines, Mindanao. They were also quite helpful in sharing links related to the global threat against kratom and sending me a recently published research paper from the Philippines evaluating this centuries


Blue Lotus

The blue lotus, (botanical name, Nymphaea caerulea) is a plant shrouded in three millennia of hazy mystery and equal controversy befitting such an intriguing subject. Through years of it’s being venerated and memorialized in art and architecture as much seems to have been hidden as revealed. Like the glorious golden globe, concealed by the field of blue petals  until dawn’s light awakens it to seeming life to beam along with the sun. It’s unique role in the development of medicine, religion and culture wasn’t even begun to be fully unveiled until the 1800’s. It is perhaps here that the beginnings of at least the modern academic controversy hearken back.


Even it’s nomenclature is at times confused or in dispute. the blue lotus, is in fact, a stylized lily. It’s official name in Latin,  Nymphaea Caerulea, in fact is part of our origin of the word cerulean. Indigo and several other hues of blue may have began in the form of adjectives in Proto-Indo-European. The word indigo, for instance hearkens from “nila” which meant blue (as in the color of the Nile).

The irrigation of the Nile and the early botanical marvel that was stylizing the white lily into the blue lotus are perfect symbols of the growth of civilization out of wilderness. The white lily was an unscented aquatic flower that opened and night and closed at dawn. Early Egyptian botanists were able to, from it’s literal roots create a blue-petaled flower which a strong, sweetly pungent scent that opened it’s blue petals at dawn to expose a yellow center (symbolizing the sun arising from the blue field of the sky daily).

White lily had already been an important plant to the Egyptians and continued to be featured in paintings, but the introduction of the blue lotus began the veneration of a plant that would spread in the years to come from continent to continent, whose mystery over the years would only seem to increase as more puzzle pieces are discovered. Originally, it was assumed the blue lotus was merely an ornamental flower. Egyptians with blue flowers pressed to their mouths and noses was a common sight in many ancient Egyptian portrayals of daily life, history or in religious stelae (slabs of wood or stone used to house  portrayals of things of religious and or historical importance).

Despite the fact that herbalists from as far back as the early document of medicinal history, the Ebers papyrus were using Blue lotus as an addition to recipes there has been heated debate as to whether or not the flower was merely used as ornaments. Up until the mid-1800’s (before George Moritz Ebers discovered the papyrus named after him in Luxor) blue lotus had been considered a mere ornament and any pharmacological use of the plant was considered ridiculous but evidence since then points more and more to the plant being a focal point to the development of religion, culture and yes, even a symbol of the rise of early civilization. From hunters and gatherers we became masters of our environment with basic technologies like irrigation and botany, evidenced in the breeding of these beautiful hybrid flowers that could also be used as medicine. In short, a vitally important step out of the darkness of pre-history.

The blue lotus’ importance to historical and cultural development, religion and medicine wouldn’t end in the sandy shores of the Nile. Nymphaea’s precious nature would prove to continue to play an important role in cultural development, trade and the art of multiple civilizations from it’s mention in Homer’s Odyssey in the portion on the island of the Lotus eaters and it’s resurgence in art of the 19th century when Ebers, Blavatsky and others sparked an interest in this mysteriously, exotic flower.

In our next chapter of the blue lotus saga we’ll continue along in Egypt and learn about the roots of this amazing flower that captivated revenants across the globe in it’s time.

Interview with Jane Babb and PhD, Esq. regarding Kratom

I spoke with Dr. Jane Babin, molecular biologist and patent lawyer, regarding Mitragyna speciosa, better known as kratom. Kratom is a plant in the Rubiacea family, making it a botanical cousin of the coffee plant. It has been used safely as a folk medicine for hundreds of years in its native South East Asia. Recently as it has grown more popular among users around the globe it has come under fire of both the DEA and FDA. Luckily, despite the concerted attempts of these regulatory agencies, there are a host of brilliant minds in the field of science, law, forensic toxicology, pharmacology and other areas who believe that kratom is a beneficial plant with multiple medicinal and health benefits. Dr. Babin offers her expert opinion on whether or not kratom is actually an opioid, what potential risks there may be and how they weigh against other legal substances.

war on kratom

Interview with Dr. Jane K. Babin, Ph.D, Esq. Regarding the War on Kratom

The FDA is currently waging an all-out war on kratom. A year out from the historic win against the DEA’s attempted extra-judicial ban of the South East Asian plant, the FDA seems intent on picking up where DEA left off. Despite the concerted effort of regulatory agencies like the FDA, there are a number of extraordinarily brilliant experts who support the use of kratom and its continued availability for those who can benefit from it.

Recently, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta went so far as to posit that kratom could be vital in combatting the opiate epidemic. Addiction expert and Johns Hopkins University professor, Dr. Jack Henningfield is yet another authority who has made an analytical defense of kratom’s safety. I had a chance recently to contact Dr. Jane Babin. Dr. Babin has a double doctorate in law and molecular biology and has spent 20 years as a patent lawyer in the bio-tech field. Since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced stricter guidelines related to opiate and opioid prescription, Dr. Babin became interested in kratom as an alternative.

Last year she wrote an impassioned and impeccably researched defense of kratom addressed to the DEA. More recently, she was involved in writing up a report debunking two recent deaths supposedly attributed to kratom. The FDA is now claiming 36 deaths due to kratom. This is up from the previously debunked figure of 15 deaths. However, the FDA is somewhat reticent in sharing their data. When a Reuters reporter requested more information about the supposed 36 deaths, the FDA referred them to the Freedom of Information Act.

One of Dr. Babin’s concerns related to the attribution of death to kratom is the fact that so many other things are overlooked. In one of the last two cases, there were multiple exacerbating situations that could have singularly led to death. Taken together, a contraindicated drug combination and other conditions were likely to result in death, but since kratom was found in the coroner’s report kratom was assumed the culprit. That’s the equivalent of finding a heroin addict dead, needle still hanging from a vein and glass of lemonade in the other hand. At this point would you be prepared to assume the lethality of lemonade?

Kratom does not possess many of the dangers of traditional opiates and opioids that make them such a public health concern. Addictive potential is comparable to coffee and no respiratory depression or toxicity dangers have been currently noted. Dr. Babin wants to make sure we don’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater, which would potentially take away what is, by all accounts, very safe.”

As for addictive and dangerous, sugar kills millions and caffeine was the subject of a recent research study that analyzed 50 recent deaths due to caffeine overdose. Bacon has been shown to be addictive and the more you eat, the more you crave. Meanwhile, kratom is in possession of multiple health benefits.

Dr. Babin reviewed and endorsed Dr. Henningfield’s 8-factor analysis of kratom which ruled the plant as having a low addictive potential and favorable safety profile especially in comparison with opiates and opioids currently in use. Dr. Babin has previously taken the DEA and FDA to task for relying on contradictory opinions and ignoring some of the current scientific findings.

You literally created the opiate epidemic then want to take away a plant that HELPS with it? And we are supposed to believe the FDA has our best interest at heart. Still waiting on your 8 factor and proof of those alleged 36 deaths by the way. #kratom— Nina (@Neenahh1) November 14, 2017

At this point, Dr. Babin is advocating for kratom’s approval as a dietary supplement. This may not be easy or inexpensive though, but could still be our best bet. “With the caveat that there is a lot of opposition to it. It’s something they don’t want to approve no matter how safe it’s proven to be.”

Cooperation between vendors, importers and advocacy groups like American Kratom Association and Botanical Education Alliance is something that may be helpful at this point.

“There should be standardization across the industry and cooperation amongst vendors and importers,” Dr. Babin urges.